CAIRO - US defence secretary James Mattis has said that his upcoming visit to Pakistan was part of an effort to “set the conditions for future collaboration” that would lead to denial of safe havens “for any terrorist group that would attack anyone in the region”.

Mattis will reach Islamabad on December 4 (tomorrow) and will meet Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa in an attempt to fix a relationship on a downward spiral, which has come under renewed scrutiny of the Trump administration.

Speaking with reporters on a military plane en route to the Egyptian capital, Mattis said “This is an effort... by the American administration to go in and set the conditions for future collaboration that leads to reconciliation in Afghanistan and a denial of safe havens for any terrorist group that would attack anyone in the region or elsewhere in the world, which a number of countries have suffered from.”

He said the US would like to broaden the focus to ensure “no terrorist organisation is seen as able to operate from a haven there”.

In October, Mattis told US lawmakers that the administration was willing to work with Pakistan “one more time” before rolling out punitive measures to compel it to act more decisively against terrorists. When asked what those measures might be, he did not rule out withdrawing Pakistan’s “major non-NATO ally” status as an option.

Mattis on Saturday embarked on a four-nation tour which will take him to Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan and Kuwait.

“In Afghanistan, we have heard from Pakistan leaders that they do not support terrorism. So I expect to see that sort of action reflected in their policies,” Mattis told reporters travelling with him to Egypt.

“They have said that they do not support havens for any terrorists, and Pakistan has taken significant casualties – both innocent people and their army – significant casualties from them. So we expect them to act in their own best interest, and in support of peace and regional stability,” he said.

“I’m making my first trip to Pakistan as secretary of defence. The US remains committed to a pragmatic relationship that expands cooperation on shared interests while reinforcing President Trump’s call for action against terrorist safe havens,” he said.

Responding to a question on Pakistan’s failure to take actions against terrorists, Mattis said Pakistan has to act in its own best interest. “They know this. In many cases, they are. But what we’re looking for is to broaden the common ground and make certain that no terrorist organisation is seen as able to operate from a haven there,” he said.

Observing that 39 nations have troops on the ground in Afghanistan fighting terrorism, Mattis said the US was looking to make a common cause with them. “There’s plenty of collaborative areas, right now, still in effect. There’s been some areas that we have lost over the years, because of disagreements about what we need to do,” he said.

“So this is an effort by the new American administration, to go in and set the conditions for future collaboration that leads to reconciliation in Afghanistan and a denial of safe havens for any terrorist group that would attack anyone in the region or elsewhere in the world, which a number of countries have suffered from,” Mattis said.

From Cairo, the defence secretary will head to Jordan to attend a meeting on countering violent extremism in West Africa, hosted by Jordan’s King Abdallah II. On Monday, he will travel to Pakistan before concluding his trip with a visit to Kuwait the following day.

About Syria, Mattis said that as offensive operations against ISIL in Syria enter their final stages, he expects Washington’s focus to move towards holding territory instead of arming Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Mattis is scheduled to meet with Egyptian president Fatah Abdel El Sisi and defence minister Sedki Sobhi in Cairo before heading on to Jordan, Pakistan and Kuwait, airport officials said.

According to the US defence department, Mattis’ five-day trip to the region is aimed at “re-affirming the enduring US commitment to partnership in the Middle East, West Africa and South Asia”. It comes just over a week after the worst-ever Islamic militant attack in Egypt’s modern history struck the country’s troubled northern Sinai region, with more than two dozen extremists descending on a mosque and killing more than 300 worshippers.