Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday said the United States did not intend to act unilaterally against militant groups inside Pakistan even as she acknowledged that American officials had held one exploratory meeting with the Haqqani network.
Clinton made the remarks during a roundtable discussion with a small group of Pakistani television journalists following her meetings with the country's top civil and military leadership.
Asked if the US had plans for any military operations against groups like the Haqqani network that is based in
Pakistan's tribal belt, Clinton replied: "We don't want to act unilaterally, we want to act in concert with our friends, our partners, our strategic allies in Pakistan.
"But we don't want there to be any misunderstanding that we have to act, otherwise there will be perhaps an incident in the future that takes it out of the hands of any President," she said.
Clinton further acknowledged that the issue of US carrying out operations with ground troops within Pakistan "may have been raised" during her meetings with Pakistani leaders "but it was not at all considered".
She said the US had held an exploratory meeting with representatives of the Haqqani network.
Clinton did not give details about who was involved or where they met.
"In fact, the Pakistani government officials helped to facilitate such a meeting," she told the roundtable discussion.
She made it clear that the US was not engaged "in any kind of negotiations" with the Haqqanis. "We've had one preliminary meeting just to see if they would show up," she said.
An unnamed US official was quoted by journalists travelling with Clinton as saying that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency had arranged the meeting with the Haqqanis "in the summer".
The meeting was held before two major attacks against US interests in Afghanistan in September, the official said.
Clinton said the US did "not see any contradiction" between simultaneously fighting and talking with the Taliban and the Haqqani network.
"And we want more coordination between the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan for what must be, with respect to the conflict, an Afghan-led effort," she said.
"We believe that there is now an opportunity for us to begin talking, but there is no guarantee that the talking will result in anything that will move us toward a peaceful resolution," Clinton said.
"We are going to continue fighting where necessary to protect our interests, and so are the Pakistani military because you cannot allow terrorists to gain ground," she added.
The US was "open to talking" and this was the reason why it had reached out to the Taliban and the Haqqani network to "test their willingness and their sincerity".
Afghanistan, Pakistan and the US will now try to forge a process that will move towards "an actual negotiation", she said.