Two U.S. officials in Pakistan for talks

( Reuter )- Two senior U.S. government officials arrived in Pakistan on Tuesday and are likely to meet Pakistan's new prime minister and President Pervez Musharraf .

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher arrived a day after Pakistan's National Assembly voted in a new prime minister who will head a coalition government made up of opponents to U.S. ally Musharraf .

A U.S. embassy spokeswoman declined to say who the two officials would be meeting but an official in Washington said on Monday Negroponte hoped to meet Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani and was likely to see Musharraf .

"This visit continues the ongoing series of visits that the deputy secretary and assistant secretary make to Pakistan to discuss issues of mutual interest," the spokeswoman said.

"They'll be seeing a wide range of people."

Musharraf's popularity has eroded over the last year and his political allies were soundly beaten in February 18 parliamentary elections won by the party of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Gilani , a deputy chairman of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party, is forming a coalition with at least three other parties, including the party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif , which came second in the election.

Sharif , the prime minister then army chief Musharraf overthrew in a 1999 coup, has called for Musharraf to step down but he has dismissed the calls saying he was ready to work with the new government.

In a challenge to the increasingly isolated Musharraf , Gilani on Monday ordered the immediate release of judges detained after the president declared emergency rule and also called for a U.N. investigation into Bhutto's assassination on December 27.

The incoming coalition partners have pledged to pass a resolution to reinstate the judges Musharraf dismissed out of fear they would rule unconstitutional his own re-election in October by the previous assembly.

If reinstated, the judges are expected to take up legal challenges to the president.

If there is confrontation between Musharraf and the new government, the United States and other Western allies fear more instability in their nuclear-armed ally, already facing a campaign of attacks by al Qaeda-inspired militants.

Members of the new coalition have spoken of the need to open talks with the militants, raising questions about Pakistan's strategy in the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism.

Musharraf's support for the U.S. campaign is deeply unpopular with many Pakistanis who have criticized the president for, as they see it, doing the bidding of the United States and provoking militant violence.

Before Bhutto's assassination in a suicide attack on December 27, the United States had hoped she and Musharraf could share power. Like Musharraf , Bhutto had stressed the need to tackle the militants.

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