Pakistan's Zardari to head to US next week

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari will visit the United States next week, officials in Islamabad confirmed Tuesday in the wake of a major political crisis that has weakened his government.

Zardari is scheduled to attend the memorial of Richard Holbrooke, who was the US special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan until his sudden death last month, and meet US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, they said.

"The president will visit the US from January 12. This visit is primarily for the memorial service of Richard Holbrooke but the president will also have meetings with US officials," said foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Basit.

"It is confirmed that he will meet Secretary Clinton. The other meetings are being worked out and hopefully details will be finalised in a day or two."

The exact duration of his stay would be announced in due course, he added.

The United States on Monday played down the impact of Pakistan's political crisis on the fight against Islamist extremism, saying it was focusing instead on strategic ties in its close but troubled alliance with Islamabad.

"We'll continue to work with the Pakistani government. We're building a strategic relationship with Pakistan," US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.

The United States wants Pakistan to do more to eradicate Al-Qaeda and Taliban who have carved out sanctuaries in its semi-autonomous northwest tribal belt and who are enflaming the war in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Zardari has extended his full support to Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, a member of his Pakistan People's Party who lost his majority after junior coalition partner Muttahida Qaumi Movement quit the government on Sunday.

The move has raised further concerns of instability in Pakistan at a time of economic meltdown that has worried the IMF, and at a key juncture in the US-led war to defeat Al-Qaeda and reverse Taliban momentum in Afghanistan.

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