Biden holds talks with Pakistani leaders


Published: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 12:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 9, 2009 at 12:59 p.m.

WASHINGTON Vice President-elect Joe Biden on Friday met with Pakistani leaders during an Asian trip meant to show the new administration's interest in the troubled region.

Biden and South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham met with President Asif Ali Zadari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, aides said. The bipartisan pair also discussed counterterrorism, counterinsurgency and the economy with interior adviser Rehman Malik and Army chief Gen. Ashfaq Kayani.

Biden aides did not disclose their schedule for security reasons, but the public descriptions of the trip suggested destinations such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. The United States has a strong interest in the stability of Pakistan's civilian government which is considered weak because it is considered an ally in the region.

Biden traveled in his role as a U.S. senator from Delaware. He takes office as vice president on Jan. 20 but has not yet resigned his Senate seat. Aides said Biden took the trip now because an official White House trip would take months to organize.

Biden's trip just days before becoming vice president was a clear signal that President-elect Barack Obama's new administration plans to make the region an immediate priority. Obama's national security team suggested the move to help the new administration get an on-the-ground sense of the situation in those countries.

Biden, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had planned to travel with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the incoming chairman of committee, and Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Susan Collins, R-Maine. Those three bowed out of the group, citing Senate votes scheduled this weekend.

Biden was sworn in for a seventh term Tuesday, a move similar to what Lyndon Johnson did while in the same situation in 1960 when he also was vice president-elect. Edward Kaufman, Biden's chief of staff for almost two decades, was appointed to fill the seat when Biden resigns.

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