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US Dy Secy of State meets Kasuri
Afzal Khan writes from Islamabad

US deputy secretary of state, John Negroponte flew into Islamabad for talks with top Pakistani leaders amid indication of a nuanced shift in US stance on Gen. Musharraf's dual role in politics and plans for re-election.

Negroponte met foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri on arrival for preliminary discussion prior to his crucial meeting with President Musharraf on Saturday.

Negroponte's trip came close on the heels of that of assistant secretary of state Richard Boucher, who will join him in talks with Musharraf. During his three-day stay here, Boucher had a smattering of inputs in interaction with Pakistani officials and senior politicians on current political situation in the backdrop of ongoing judicial crisis which has seriously eroded their staunchest ally's hold on power.

Boucher's arrival here coincided with comments in Washington by State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on the possible timing of the presidential election.

McCormack had said US believed Musharraf would seek re-election from Parliament after, not before, general elections due later this year. Musharraf insists he would ask present assemblies to elect him next September-October in uniform before calling general elections later.

Besides offering his thoughts on a central issue in Pakistani politics regarding the timing of presidential and general polls, the spokesman also touched the controversy of Musharraf's dual role as President and army chief. He said the US hoped that if Musharraf continues in political life, "he will put aside the uniform".

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