ISLAMABAD - Pakistan and the United States hope to finalise the settlement of the Afghanistan issue when their top leaders - Imran Khan and Donald Trump - possibly meet in the near future, officials said.

Senior officials at the foreign ministry told The Nation that although there was no official communication about Prime Minister Khan’s meeting with President Trump, both the sides were willing for the engagement.

“The diplomatic contacts are ongoing. Once the meeting is finalised, we hope to find some out for the Afghanistan issue. The two countries are already supporting the peace process (in Afghanistan),” said one official.

Another official said the top-level meeting between the two uneasy allies would not be ‘too far away.’ “We expect it soon and it would be aimed at resolving the Afghanistan issue and enhancing the trust level (between Pakistan and the US). We hope to understand each other better after the possible meeting,” he added.

Recently, US President Donald Trump wrote a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan seeking Islamabad’s support in securing a “negotiated settlement” to the war in Afghanistan.

This came as Washington stepped up efforts to hold peace talks with the Taliban, more than 17 years after the invasion of Afghanistan. In his letter, Trump said a settlement is “his most important regional priority”, the Pakistani foreign ministry stated. “In this regard, he has sought Pakistan’s support and facilitation”, it added.

Last month, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad had briefed Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi about the US President’s letter written to Prime Minister Imran Khan for getting Pakistan’s cooperation regarding Afghan reconciliation process. Khalilzad had also visited Pakistan in October in his current capacity.

Pakistan later arranged a meeting between Afghan Taliban and the US. Other friendly countries were also engaged. Another round is expected in Saudi Arabia this month.

Foreign Office Spokesperson Dr Mohammed Faisal said Pakistan looked forward to the positive engagement with the United States at the top leadership level.

He said US President Donald Trump’s statement that he was willing to meet the new Pakistani leadership was indeed a ‘departure from his January 1, 2018 tweet.’

President Trump had expressed his willingness to meet Prime Minister Imran Khan. He said: “We want to have a great relationship with Pakistan.” However, he also accused Islamabad of “housing the enemy and taking care of him.”

His remarks came when he was addressing a meeting with the cabinet members. “When we give money to Pakistan, $1.3 billion, I ended that. A lot of people don t know it, because they haven’t been fair to us.”

The US President underscored that his administration had initiated peace talks with the Taliban. He announced that a meeting with the new leadership of Pakistan will take place ‘very soon.’

Dr Faisal said on the request of the US and the Afghanistan government, Pakistan was facilitating peace talks between the US and the Taliban. “Pakistan has always maintained that Afghanistan’s neighbors and important regional countries should be on board and play a role for Afghan peace process.

In our view, regional consensus on Afghan peace process is important for success and sustainability of the Afghan peace and reconciliation process,” he said.

Pak-US ties had soured in recent years with US officials repeatedly accusing Islamabad of ignoring or even collaborating with groups like the Afghan Taliban, which attack Afghanistan from alleged safe havens along the border between the two countries.

The troubled relationship hit another snag after US President Donald Trump declared he had cancelled assistance worth hundreds of millions of dollars because Islamabad does not do ‘a damn thing’ for the US.

There was a sign of thaw when Trump wrote a letter to Prime Minister Khan seeking cooperation to resolve the Afghanistan issue but there was no end to the hostile statements from Washington.

Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson had placed Pakistan on a special watch list to warn them of their likelihood of being placed on the list of Countries of Particular Concern.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then made that determination and identified Pakistan as CPC in the hope that the new leadership would work to improve the situation.