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US seeks resumed security assistance to Pakistan amid improved ties

Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the State Department in Washington, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013.  The US State Department has asked Congress to resume more than US$300 million (S$317 million) in bl
Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the State Department in Washington, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013.  The US State Department has asked Congress to resume more than US$300 million (S$317 million) in blocked security assistance to Pakistan, officials said on Sunday amid an upswing in relations. -- PHOTO: AP 

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US State Department has asked Congress to resume more than US$300 million (S$317 million) in blocked security assistance to Pakistan, officials said on Sunday amid an upswing in relations.

"This is part of a long process of restarting security assistance cooperation after implementation was slowed during the bilateral challenges of 2011 and 2012," deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told AFP.

The development came as Secretary of State John Kerry met with Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is making his country's highest-level official visit to the United States in years.

"We have a lot to talk about and the relationship with Pakistan could not be more important," Mr Kerry said at the start of the meeting.

He called Pakistan a "democracy that is working hard to get its economy moving and deal with insurgency and also important to the regional stability." Sharif was elected in May, and Washington has praised his efforts to reduce tensions in South Asia.

Relations with the United States have also improved since they plunged to one of their lowest points in 2011 amid the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a US commando raid in Pakistan, as well as the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a US airstrike.

US security assistance was interrupted during that period, although US$857 million in civilian assistance continued to flow, Ms Harf said.

She said US security assistance would build the capabilities of Pakistan's security forces, "which is critical to countering violence in the western border regions."

"And US civilian assistance to Pakistan has delivered real results on the issues most important to Prime Minister Sharif and all Pakistanis: energy, education, and economic growth," she said.