WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama raised the stakes Tuesday in a tense standoff with Pakistan, insisting that a detained U.S. Embassy employee who killed two Pakistanis must be freed and dispatching a high-profile envoy to make the case that Pakistan has much to lose if the case drags on.
Obama insisted the "simple principle" of diplomatic immunity meant that Pakistan must release Raymond Davis, 36. Davis has been held since the shootings almost three weeks ago.
"If it starts being fair game on our ambassadors around the world, including in dangerous places where we may have differences with those governments … that's untenable," Obama said at a news conference, his first public remarks on the case. "It means they can't do their job. And that's why we respect these conventions and every country should as well."
The Davis case has become a flash point for Pakistani nationalism and anti-American suspicion, making it harder for Pakistani authorities to back down despite intense U.S. pressure.
Thousands of Pakistanis have rallied to demand that Davis be hanged.
Obama spoke after sending Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to smooth over relations with Pakistan, whose cooperation is needed to rout insurgents fighting U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan and al-Qaida fighters hiding in remote frontier zones.
In Pakistan, Kerry reached out to the government, promising a U.S. criminal investigation into the shooting if Davis is released.
The United States says Davis shot in self-defense as two armed men tried to rob him in Lahore last month.
Pakistani police have said they plan to try him for murder, arguing that while the Pakistanis did have a loaded gun, there was no round in the chamber, and saying Davis shot one man as he was trying to flee.