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Sanctions likely to lift, says diplomat

The sanctions, like this policeman's faceguard, are likely to be lifted soon  

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Sanctions imposed by the United States on India and Pakistan over their 1998 nuclear tests will soon be lifted, says a senior Western diplomat.

Pakistan's bilateral debt of $600 million will also be rescheduled, according to the diplomat.

The diplomat, who asked not to be identified, said the work was under way now. It would allow a resumption of various kinds of U.S. assistance to Pakistan, Reuters reported.

"You will see discernible progress soon," the diplomat said when asked if the sanctions would be lifted as Washington builds support for its "anti-terorist" campaign.

The lifting of the sanctions imposed after India and then Pakistan carried out tit-for-tat nuclear tests, and thus joined the elite community of nuclear powers, would allow the United States to vote in favor of aid in multilateral bodies and resume direct assistance in a number of areas.

Extra sanctions

It will not affect additional U.S. sanctions imposed on Pakistan because of military ruler General Pervez Musharraf's seizure of power in 1999.

"You will see discernible progress soon," said the diplomat, who asked not to be identified. Preparation for the lifting of the sanctions was under way in Washington, the official said.

Washington had also accelerated negotiations to reschedule the $600 million in Pakistani debt owed to the United States, the diplomat said.

The signing of the agreement under the Paris Club, which handles negotiations on bilateral debt, would take place on September 24, and is part of $1.6 billion in Pakistan's Paris Club debt being rescheduled this year.

Another diplomat said the moves were part of a number of financial benefits, many already in the pipeline, that have been accelerated to help Pakistan as it lines up behind Washington in what may be an attack on neighboring Afghanistan.

Criticism at home

Musharraf, despite criticism at home, has promised to back the United States as it pursues those responsible for the September 11 attacks on Washington and New York that are feared to have killed more than 6,000 people.

A series of meetings have taken place between senior members of the U.S. embassy and Musharraf and ministers with economic portfolios as part of an effort to provide quick benefits to Pakistan.

The diplomats said Pakistan has made clear that any additional aid will be directed toward the badly underfunded social sectors such as health and education, not toward the military.

Even before the current crisis, which has forced the closure of Pakistan's stock exchanges all this week, the economy was in precarious condition.

It is struggling under about $40 billion in foreign debt and has meagre reserves to defend its currency, which has been declining for more than a year.

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