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US-Afghan-Pakistan meeting in doubt amid row

By Reuters

A meeting scheduled this month between Pakistani, Afghan and US officials in Washington is in doubt as a rift grows between Islamabad and Washington over an American man locked in a Pakistani jail, accused of murder.

The Obama administration is insisting diplomatic immunity should cover Raymond Davis, the US consular employee who shot dead two Pakistani men last month in what he said was an attempted robbery on a street in the Pakistani city of Lahore .

The case has become a lightning rod for anti-American sentiment in Pakistan, which the United States counts as an important, if unreliable, ally in its war against militants that launch attacks against its soldiers in Afghanistan.

The Afghan embassy in Washington said Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasul and other ministers would attend the meeting as scheduled from Feb. 23-25, and the US State Department indicated this week that planning continued for the gathering.

But a Pakistani diplomatic source said no decision had been made about whether the meeting would go ahead or whether it would be cancelled.

One Afghan minister also said his plans to travel to the United States for the meeting were now up in the air.

The trilateral meetings have been held periodically in a bid to foster stability in Afghanistan, where around 100,000 US troops are fighting tenacious Taliban militants, and in Pakistan, where a fragile government battles an insurgency of its own.

The controversy over Davis, who shot the two men on Jan. 27, is the latest issue pitting Pakistani officials against their US counterparts even as they struggle to project an image of cooperation on security.

On Friday, a Pakistani court jailed Davis for 14 more days, threatening to prolong a row that has put many high-level dealings on hold, including official visits to Pakistan, and could threaten US assistance to Pakistan, one of the largest non-NATO recipients of American military aid.

"It is the perfect storm because the (Obama) administration has zero room to manoeuvre and the Pakistan government is in the same position," said Charles Dunbar, a former US ambassador and professor at Boston University.