ISLAMABAD - The United States backs Pakistan’s efforts for regional peace as Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Iran to mediate between Tehran and Riyadh.

Senior government officials told The Nation on Sunday that the US was happy with Pakistan’s role and had conveyed this to Islamabad already. “The US doesn’t want a war in the region and supports Pakistan’s efforts for dialogue. They have appreciated Imran Khan for taking the lead,” said one official, citing the Islamabad-Washington contacts.

Another official said that Pakistan was regularly briefing the US counterparts on the regional developments amid tensions. “The US has promised to work with us (Pakistan),” he remarked.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Imran Khan met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran during his a one-day official trip and discussed wide-ranging consultations.

“Pakistan attaches high importance to bilateral ties with Iran. Pakistan is willing to play its role towards strengthening peace and stability in the region,” he said at a news conference with President Hasan Rouhani.

“I told Prime Minster Imran we welcome any gesture by Pakistan for peace in the region and appreciate his visit to our country,” said Mr Rouhani.

The Iranian President said that the two leaders had discussed the war in Yemen and the sanctions imposed by the United States on Iran among many other issues.

“Regional issues have to be resolved through regional means and dialogue. We also emphasised that any goodwill gesture will be responded with goodwill gesture and good words,” added.

Imran Khan said:”The main reason I came here with my delegation is that we don’t want conflict in the region. Pakistan suffered 70,000 casualties in the last 15 years in the war on terror, Afghanistan is still suffering, there is terrible devastation in Syria — we don’t want another conflict in this part of the world. Saudi Arabia has been one of our close friends, it helped us in the time of need. We recognise that it is a complex situation ... what should not happen is that Saudi Arabia and Iran go to war.”

Regarding the upcoming visit to Saudi Arabia, Mr Khan said it was Pakistan’s own initiative, saying he felt encouraged after his meeting with the Iranian president.

“I will go to Saudi Arabia with a positive mind. We would like to play the role of a facilitator and not mediator. We want to facilitate two brotherly Islamic countries. It is a complex situation but it can be resolved,” he maintained.

This was the Prime Minister’s second visit to Iran this year. The Prime Minister also had a bilateral meeting with the President of Iran on the sidelines of 74th UNGA Session in New York in September 2019.

Yesterday, the US also appreciated Pakistan’s efforts to curb militancy but reminded Islamabad that it must do more to stop militants from operating within its borders.

The statement from Alice Wells, the acting assistant secretary of the US State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, came via Twitter.

She said Washington welcomes Pakistan’s recent arrest of four Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) leaders and wants them and LeT chief Hafiz Saeed face prosecution for their “vicious attacks.”

Wells added that Prime Minister Imran Khan has vowed to pursue action against all militant groups and that “Pakistan, for its own future, must prevent militant groups from operating on its soil.”

The reminder from Washington comes on the heels of the arrest of four aides of Hafiz Saeed on terrorism financing charges.

Saeed, arrested on the same charges, has been on judicial remand since July, a move previously welcomed by US President Donald Trump who wants Pakistan to do more to crack down on militancy.

The recent arrests come ahead of a meeting next week of the Financial Action Task Force, a global watchdog, which will review progress made by Pakistan in controlling terror financing and money laundering.

Pakistan, included on a so-called grey list compiled by the FATF, has been under increasing pressure to stop the financing of militant groups.