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Obama Says Pakistan Mustn’t Prosecute U.S. Diplomat

U.S. President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama pauses during a news conference in Washington, D.C. Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama said Pakistan mustn’t prosecute a U.S. consulate worker who has been charged with murder in Pakistan and imprisoned after the shooting deaths of two Pakistanis.

“Obviously, we’re concerned about the loss of life,” Obama said at a Washington press conference yesterday. Still, he said, the U.S. worker, Raymond Davis, should be treated as a diplomat. “There’s a broader principle at stake that I think we have to uphold,” he said.

The shootings have triggered street protests in Pakistan, raising pressure on the government of President Asif Ali Zardari, a key U.S. ally in the fight against Islamic extremism in the region. The U.S. government contends that Davis, who has been held since Jan. 27, acted in self-defense when he was approached by robbers and has diplomatic immunity.

Pushing for Davis’ release, U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, said during a trip to Pakistan yesterday that the U.S. State Department would conduct its own investigation into the killings and may hold criminal hearings.

“We don’t want this one incident to derail our relationship,” Kerry said in a televised press conference in Lahore. “We must move beyond this incident and continue to strengthen our partnership.”

Obama said prosecution of Davis could set up an “untenable” situation around the world, making ambassadors and other diplomats vulnerable to local prosecutions.

“It means they can’t do their job,” he said. “And that’s why we respect these conventions, and every country should as well.”

Police Accusation

The police chief of Lahore has accused Davis of committing “clear-cut murder” on a city street last month, and a judge ordered him held in custody. U.S. lawyers are expected to file a petition in the Lahore High Court tomorrow seeking his freedom.

“Davis can’t be tried in its local courts,” Kerry said in Pakistan yesterday. “This matter is not for the local courts to decide.”

Davis is a former Special Forces soldier originally from Virginia who spent 10 years in the U.S. Army before leaving in August 2003, the Associated Press reported, citing Defense Department records. The State Department hasn’t described his role in Pakistan except to say he was “a member of the administrative and technical staff” of the embassy.

“We’re building a strategic relationship with Pakistan,” Philip J. Crowley, the U.S. State Department spokesman, said at a briefing today in Washington. “We certainly do not want to have issues like this distract us from our joint efforts.”

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