ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and the United States agreed Thursday to resume broad partnership talks that were suspended two years ago amid wide Pakistani anger over American drone attacks and other perceived slights to Pakistani sovereignty.

Still, Secretary of State John F Kerry said during a visit here, the drone strikes will continue as he also maintained tough US stance on Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project, which Pakistan has said it was determined to go ahead with.

“Dialogue and military strategy (to combat terror) will continue...I do not agree that there is a lack of synchronisation between the two,” Kerry told a joint news conference with National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz after intensive meetings with Pakistan‘s top leadership.

Despite wide differences on some crucial issues, the two sides resolved to fight the common threat of terrorism and move relations forward. They also vowed continuing to work for the peace in the region, especially in Afghanistan, from where Secretary of State said the ‘US will not completely pull out’.

Announcing the modest accomplishment of new talks, Kerry said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to make an official visit to Washington in about a month, at President Obama’s invitation. As an apparent sop to Pakistan, Kerry announced that the US will resume the stalled strategic dialogue process over the next six months and also improve bilateral trade ties.

“America does not want to have a transactional relationship. We do not want to have a relationship based on the moment and focused solely on fighting terrorism or dominated by the war next door in Afghanistan,” he said. He said the two sides had agreed to start their strategic dialogue and “five sub-groups will begin meeting immediately”.

Sartaj Aziz made a point of saying that Pakistani officials had reiterated to Kerry their long-standing opposition to US drone strikes. “We are going to continue the dialogue on how to stop this,” he said, adding that the next such session would be held within six months.

But Kerry refused to promise that US drone attacks would stop. He maintained he wanted to remind Pakistanis that the terrorists in their midst are the ones who “violate the sovereignty of this country”. “I would simply remind all of our friends that somebody like al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is violating the sovereignty of this country.”

“...They attack people in mosques, (they) blow up people in villages, in market places, they are violating the sovereignty of the country... Pakistan cannot realise its full economic potential until it overcomes extremists... The choice for Pakistanis is clear: will the forces of violent extremism be allowed to grow more dominant, eventually overpowering the moderate majority?”

To a question, Kerry revealed that nothing was discussed with regard to a possible bilateral prisoner swap agreement or repatriation of Dr Aafia Siddqui. Referring to the issue of terrorist safe havens, Kerry said a lot of issues need detailed attention and talks.

Sartaj Aziz said that the US Secretary of State was also briefed on the country’s upcoming terrorism policy and about the proposed All Parties Conference (APC). He said the armed forces are already present in most of the tribal areas and new military action is a question of increasing capacity and the right timing. Aziz, however, added that “talks will be the first priority”.

Kerry said the US is gearing up for the drawdown of its forces in Afghanistan and to prepare the grounds for talks to organise the Afghan presidential election next year. He made it clear that the US will not completely pull out of Afghanistan, saying it was a “drawdown and not a withdrawal”.

Troops of over Western 50 countries will remain to counter terrorism and help train Afghan forces, he said. Kerry hoped the Afghan Taliban will return to negotiations as part of efforts to find a political solution to the Afghan problem. “The reason we hope talks can take place is because everybody understands a political resolution is better than the continued fighting,” he said.

Aziz said Pakistan is committed to an Afghan-led peace process. “I think what Secretary Kerry said, it is the process between Afghan stakeholders and we can do our best to facilitate the process. We cannot do more than facilitate,” he said.

Earlier, during his talks with US delegation, PM Nawaz Sharif emphasised Pakistan’s desire to get access to the American markets to boost economy and assistance in overcoming the energy crisis. Kerry said he endorsed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s vision and his agenda of reforms. He said he unequivocally believes that Prime Minister Nawaz desires building of their relationship.

“We agreed...that we are going to begin the strategic dialogue immediately and over six months, we would have the ministerial (meeting),” he said. Kerry said the talks will cover “all of the key issues between us, from border management to counter-terrorism to promoting US private investment,” told the press conference.

Secretary Kerry said their partnership covers vital areas of energy, trade and investment and he mentioned the largest ever Fulbright scholarship program for Pakistan. He reiterated his country will facilitate construction of Diamer Bhasha Dam, and 1,000MWs of additional power will be available to the country with the assistance of the USAID. He said a new investment fund between the two countries has also been launched for enhancing trade and promoting trade between the two countries.

Later, during a visit to Islamabad Electric Supply Company’s grid station, Kerry was briefed about USAID-funded Local Data Improvement Project. The US top diplomat said US would provide $11 billion to Pakistan over next five years under the Kerry Lugar Bremmon programme, besides extending every possible help in energy sector. “We have (already) added around 1200 megawatts electricity in national grid of Pakistan. We will assist the country in more power projects to generate cheaper and affordable energy,” he said.