ISLAMABAD - Pakistan Thursday said it was optimistic about positive engagement with the United States at the top leadership level.

Speaking at a weekly news briefing Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal said US President Donald Trump’s statement that he was willing to meet the new Pakistani leadership was indeed a ‘departure from his January 1, 2018 tweet.’

Earlier, President Trump expressed his willingness to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan. He said: “We want to have a great relationship with Pakistan.” However, he also accused Islamabad of “housing the enemy and taking care of him.”

His remarks came when he was addressing a meeting of cabinet members. “When we give money to Pakistan, $1.3 billion, I ended that. A lot of people don’t know it, because they haven’t been fair to us.”

The US President underscored that his administration had initiated peace talks with the Taliban. He announced that a meeting with the new leadership of Pakistan will take place ‘very soon’.

Dr Faisal said on the request of the US and the Afghanistan government, Pakistan was facilitating peace talks between the US and the Taliban. “Pakistan has always maintained that Afghanistan’s neighbours and important regional countries should be on board and play a role for Afghan peace process. In our view, regional consensus on Afghan peace process is important for success and sustainability of the Afghan peace and reconciliation process,” he said.

The spokesperson said Pakistan had seen reports about the Iran-Taliban talks. “In recent months, we have seen engagement of Taliban with various countries and their participation in international conferences,” he added.

He said in pursuance of current government’s policy of outreach to the neighbourhood and the region, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi undertook visits to Afghanistan, Iran, China and Russia from December 24-26 and Qatar on December 30. “The Foreign Minister held consultations with the leadership of these countries on strengthening bilateral relations and expanding mutually beneficial economic and development cooperation. He also exchanged views on the regional political situation as well as recent developments in the Afghan peace process and ways to bring synergy in the regional processes to strengthen consensus on pursuing political settlement in Afghanistan,” said the spokesperson.

The Foreign Minister, he said, also briefed his interlocutors about Pakistan’s efforts to facilitate direct talks between the US and the Taliban. Pakistan, he said, underlined the importance of support of the relevant regional countries for success and sustainability of the Afghan peace process.

Qureshi, the spokesperson said, emphasized close and regular coordination among Afghanistan’s neighbors and the relevant regional countries to assist the ongoing efforts to achieve a broader regional understanding for long-term stability in Afghanistan and the region.

“They agreed that such synergy is necessary to overcome common hurdles and to devise consensus-based approach for wider regional peace, development and progress,” he added.

The spokesperson said Pakistan will continue its outreach to regional countries and important international partners for mutually beneficial cooperation and to advance the peace and reconciliation process.

“Pakistan, being the immediate neighbour of Afghanistan, is interested that any development in Afghanistan leads to peace and stability of the region,” he said.

Currently, he said, efforts were underway towards a political settlement in Afghanistan. “Hence, the withdrawal of US troops should be part of a peace process with a view to ensure that there is no power vacuum in Afghanistan. It is Pakistan’s genuine desire that peace returns to Afghanistan allowing the return of Afghan refugees from Pakistan and beginning of an era of prosperity and normalcy in the region,” Faisal said. He urged the Afghan government to investigate presence of high-profile terrorists in the country.

To a question, Faisal said, the relationship with India was a difficult and complicated one. “We are slowly moving forward,” he added.

Indeed, he said, having a dialogue is a positive development. However, if India shies from dialogue we cannot do much. “It takes two to tango. Our position on the matter is clear. I have repeatedly referred to Prime Minister of Pakistan’s letter, which he wrote to the Indian Prime Minister, on 14 September 2018. The letter lays down, clearly and without any ambiguity, our policy. Obviously we would like to discuss the dispute of Jammu and Kashmir, first and foremost, in addition to all other matters. We, unlike India do not shy away from having a dialogue for resolution of all outstanding issues between the two countries. Plebiscite is the only solution to the Kashmir issue,” he said.

About India’s claims of surgical strike, he said: “There was no such event. It is a figment of Indian imagination. The Indian media is itself doubting the claims of their government. Our desire for peace must not be misconstrued as our weakness.”

Pakistan-China relations, he said were strategic and cooperative partnership which is marked by understanding, mutual trust and goodwill.

“The two countries have wide-ranging engagements in diverse spheres of bilateral ties. Recent years have seen a further strengthening of bilateral economic cooperation as CPEC has accentuated the economic engagement between Pakistan and China. It has been the priority of Pakistan’s government to further deepen economic ties between the two friendly countries,” he said.

About the Supreme Court’s order to declare Pak-Turk International Cag Education Foundation of Fateullah Golan as a terrorist organisation, he said the decision of the Supreme Court shall be implemented.

About the missing 23 Indian passports in the High Commission for Pakistan, New Delhi, he said the matter had been looked into.

“The High Commission handled several thousand passports while processing visas on the eve of 549thbirth anniversary celebrations of Baba Guru Nanak. In the event more than 3800 visas were issued and passports duly returned. There is no evidence that the allegedly missing 23 passports were received by the Mission. As such, reports in this regard are baseless and speculative,” he remarked.

He said the Capital Development Authority had not brought any violation by the embassies in the knowledge of the foreign ministry in the ‘construction plan.’ He said investigation was held the cases against Pakistani diplomats, deputed in other countries.

About German Ambassador Martin Kobler free movement in the country, Faisal said all accredited diplomats can freely move in Pakistan in accordance with the Vienna Convention. “Martin Kobler travels in the country, seeks prior permission as per rules,” he added.

To a question, the spokesperson said: “Pakistan does not recognise Israel.”