The US has responded to accusations from Pakistan that a drone strike that killed Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud had destroyed the country’s nascent peace process.
A state department official said talks with the Taliban were an internal matter for Pakistan.
The statement insisted Pakistan and the US had a “shared strategic interest in ending extremist violence”.
It also said it could still not confirm that Mehsud had been killed on Friday.
Pakistan has summoned the US ambassador to protest over Friday’s drone strike that killed Mehsud.
Hakimullah Mehsud was killed a day before Pakistani officials say they were scheduled to send a three-member team to start peace negotiations with the Taliban.
Pakistan’s Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told a local TV news channel, Geo, that the drone strike was an attempt to “sabotage” Pakistan’s peace talks with Taliban.
But many believe Mehsud’s death will leave the field open for groups that are known to have publicly favoured a rapprochement with Pakistan.
One of these groups is headed by Khan Said Sajna, the successor of Waliur Rehman, a militant commander who favoured talks with Islamabad and once contested the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban. Rehman was killed in a drone strike in May.
The country’s foreign minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, said the strike on the local Taliban leader “is not just the killing of one person, it’s the death of all peace efforts.”
It came a day before a Pakistani delegation had been due to fly to North Waziristan to meet Mehsud.
Mr Nisar accused the United States of “scuttling” efforts to begin peace talks, and said “every aspect” of Pakistan’s co-operation with Washington would be reviewed.
Information Minister Pervez Rashid said: “The US has tried to attack the peace talks with this drone but we will not let them fail.”
The US state department spokesman said: “The issue of whether to negotiate with TTP is an internal matter for Pakistan, and we refer you to the government of Pakistan for further details.”
The official added: “More broadly, the United States and Pakistan continue to have a vital, shared strategic interest in ending extremist violence so as to build a more prosperous, stable, and peaceful region.
“We have an ongoing dialogue with Pakistan regarding all aspects of the relationship and our shared interests, including security and counterterrorism cooperation, and we work together to address each others’ concerns.”
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had pledged to talk with the Taliban to try to end its campaign of violence, which has left thousands dead in bombings and shootings across the country.
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Mehsud was killed along with four other people – including two of his bodyguards – when four missiles struck their vehicle in the north-western region of North Waziristan, a senior Taliban official told the BBC.
Pakistani media say Mehsud’s funeral has taken place at an unknown location in the tribal area of North Waziristan.
A Pakistani Taliban spokesman, Azam Tariq, vowed revenge, as Pakistan’s security forces were put on high alert.
“Every drop of Hakimullah’s blood will turn into a suicide bomber,” he said. “America and their friends shouldn’t be happy because we will take revenge for our martyr’s blood.”
The Taliban’s ruling council met on Saturday to choose a new leader. Unconfirmed reports say regional commander Khan Said Sajna has been elected to the top job. .
The US said it had seen the reports but “cannot confirm one way or the other”.
The state department official also said: “We are not in a position to confirm reports that Hakimullah Mehsud may have been killed in Pakistan.”
As well as Mehsud, the previous Pakistan Taliban leader was killed in a drone strike, in 2009
The US had a bounty of $5m on Mehsud’s head. The state department described him as the head of the group which planned the failed bombing of Times Square in 2010 and said the Pakistani Taliban have a “symbiotic” relationship with al-Qaeda.
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Mehsud’s death is seen as another setback for the militant group after the recent capture of a senior commander by US forces in Afghanistan.
Mehsud led the insurgency from North Waziristan and was thought to be responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.
- Became overall leader of Pakistani Taliban in 2009, aged 30, after his predecessor, Baitullah Mehsud, died in a US drone strike
- Masterminded campaign against Nato convoys in Khyber tribal region and Peshawar
- Emerged as a prominent fighter after reputedly leading a raid that captured 300 soldiers
- In 2010, he appeared in a video alongside a Jordanian who later killed seven CIA agents in Afghanistan in a suicide attack
He came to prominence in 2007 as a commander under the militant group’s founder Baitullah Mehsud, with the capture of 300 Pakistani soldiers adding to his prestige among the militants.
His second-in-command, Waliur Rehman, was killed in a similar drone strike in May.
In a rare interview two weeks ago, Mehsud told the BBC he was open to “serious talks” with the government but said he had not yet been approached.
Mehsud denied carrying out recent deadly attacks in public places, saying his targets were “America and its friends”.
He had loose control over more than 30 militant groups in Pakistan’s tribal areas.