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US Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday hoped that talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and top Pakistan officials would be productive as NATO prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan next year.
Kerry, who arranged the trilateral meeting on top of his visit to Brussels for a NATO foreign ministers gathering, said as he went into the talks that he was "very hopeful for a productive series of discussions."
The talks will cover "security and other issues regarding the relationships in the region as well as the road forward heading towards 2014," Kerry said.
This is a "critical transformational period," he added, welcoming Karzai, the head of Pakistan's armed forces Ashfaq Kayani and Pakistan foreign secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani.
Washington sees Pakistan as a key player in brokering peace with Taliban insurgents who have been battling the Kabul government and US-led foreign forces since 2001.
Relations between Islamabad and Kabul, however, have been strained for years and Karzai has accused Pakistan of aiding the Taliban who seek refuge along their rugged border.
Signs earlier this year of an improvement have faded amid disagreements between the two over how to promote peace efforts by bringing the Taliban on board.
Afghanistan says Pakistan, which backed the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, continues to support the insurgents to counter the influence of arch-rival India.
Washington has pushed the trilateral discussions in an effort to ease such suspicions but they are deep-seated. Pakistan strongly rejects the charge it helps the Taliban.
Karzai thanked Kerry for arranging the meeting and said "let's look forward for the best."
Jilani echoed that remark, saying it was an "important meeting. We are looking forward to a very productive discussion."