KARACHI, Pakistan — A senior U.S. envoy promised Thursday that Washington would not interfere in Pakistan's politics to save longtime ally President Pervez Musharraf, but he was cautious on the new government's hopes to talk peace with pro-Taliban forces.
Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte offered little defense for Musharraf, the former army general whose help in combating Islamic extremists was deemed crucial by Washington after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the United States.
Any debate "with regard to the issue of his status is something that will have to be addressed by the internal Pakistani political process," Negroponte said, alluding to calls for Musharraf to resign and an impeachment threat from an incoming government bent on slashing presidential powers.
"We will certainly respect whatever is decided in that regard," the diplomat told reporters in Karachi, the southern city that is Pakistan's business center.
It was a clear indication Washington has shifted from its singular reliance on Musharraf in relations with this nuclear-armed Islamic nation, where voters repudiated the president's allies and handed his opponents a resounding victory in parliamentary elections last month.
Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher met this week with Musharraf's foes, who are setting up a governing coalition after winning the most seats in the Feb. 18 voting.
Partners in the new government have suggested dialogue with pro-Taliban groups that are blamed for the country's escalating violence — an approach that has drawn criticism from Washington, which has provided about $10-billion in aid to Pakistan since 2001.