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Paracha changes story on Hughes meeting

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- Stymied by a lack of progress in quelling the Afghan insurgency, Washington may be quietly sounding out Pakistani politicians to negotiate with the Afghan resistance.

The United States has approached Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader Javed Ibrahim Paracha, a former National Assembly representative from Kohat known for his contacts with Islamic militants, to serve as a conduit between Washington and the Taliban and foreign fighters, according to a source close to the former parliamentarian.

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There are differing accounts of what actually transpired at the meeting, however.

Paracha initially confirmed that he met last Friday with U.S. State Department Under-Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes and U.S. military officials at Islamabad's Serena Hotel, according to GEO Pakistan News.

The Daily Times reported that following a telephone call from "American officials in Islamabad," Paracha subsequently changed his account of what transpired and said, "I met U.S. businessmen who were visiting Pakistan in connection to the Oct. 8 earthquake.

"There was no U.S. government official at the meeting. I was told was that U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes was also staying at the same hotel. I did not meet her, but saw her from close.

"I met several American businessmen who did ask me to help the U.S. 'reconcile' with al-Qaida and Taliban leaders in Afghanistan. The businessmen sought my help against anti-American feelings and for a safe exit of U.S. troops from Afghanistan under an agreement."

Paracha quoted the businessmen as saying, "We are not ordinary people. You will soon realize how important we are. Influential Congressmen will raise the issue that we are discussing with you."

Peter Kovach, spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, said "No meeting with local politicians from that region took place at all. There was nothing in the schedule that would suggest such a meeting. I cannot confirm this."

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