‘US shooting case won't derail talks’

ISLAMABAD, February 13 (AP): Pakistan's standoff with Washington over a jailed U.S. Embassy worker will not thwart talks between the two countries and Afghanistan, a Pakistani government spokesman said Sunday.
Tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan have been rising over the detention of American Raymond Allen Davis for killing two Pakistani men he says were trying to rob him. In an apparent step to show its displeasure, the United States on Saturday postponed a meeting with Pakistani and Afghan officials to discuss the war in Afghanistan. Pakistan prizes such gatherings as a way to assert influence in Afghanistan.  The meeting was to have taken place next week. The U.S. did not directly cite Davis' continued detention as the reason, but U.S. diplomats have said the talks could become a casualty of the dispute.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit said he is confident the three-way talks will continue.  "The trilateral talks will be rescheduled in due course of time," Basit said. "It is important the trilateral process continues. We hope whenever held, (talks) will yield maximum results for peace and stability."
He declined comment on what the escalating diplomatic spat means for the Davis case or for relations with the United States.  State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the U.S. hopes to reschedule the meeting soon.
Police in Pakistan have accused Davis of "cold-blooded murder." Davis claims he shot the men in self-defense when they tried to rob him at gunpoint in the eastern city of Lahore. The U.S. insists he has diplomatic immunity from prosecution. Pakistani officials, fearful of a backlash in a population where anti-American fervor is widespread, have referred the case to the courts. Police are pushing for murder charges against the 36-year-old Davis, a former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who was foreign minister until a Cabinet reshuffle three days ago, said that his stance had been that Davis did not qualify for diplomatic immunity. It was not clear whether Qureshi's dismissal was related to his stance. A new foreign minister has not been named.
Pakistan’s foreign secretary - the current top official in the ministry - has said that any U.S. pressure on Islamabad to release Davis will be “counterproductive.”  Pakistan is considered a key to U.S. success in neighboring Afghanistan, making it difficult for Washington to sever ties. Pakistan relies on U.S. aid and protection, but the government seems paralyzed in the face of public outrage over the shootings.
On Sunday, the Pakistani Taliban threatened to attack any government official involved in Davis’ eventual release.