WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama raised the stakes Tuesday in a tense standoff with Pakistan, insisting that a detained American embassy employee who killed two Pakistanis must be freed and dispatching a high-profile envoy to make the case that Pakistan has much to lose if the case drags on.
Obama insisted the "simple principle" of diplomatic immunity meant that Pakistan must release the 36-year-old U.S. official, Raymond Allen Davis. Davis has been held since the shootings almost three weeks ago.
"If it starts being fair game on our ambassadors around the world, including in dangerous places where we may have differences with those governments ... that's untenable," Obama said at a news conference, his first public remarks on the case. "It means they can't do their job. And that's why we respect these conventions and every country should as well."
The Davis case has become a flashpoint for Pakistani nationalism and anti-American suspicion, making it harder for Pakistani authorities to back down despite intense U.S. pressure.
Thousands have rallied to demand that Davis be hanged and the Taliban have threatened attacks against Pakistani officials involved in freeing the Virginia native.
The disagreement has risked spinning out of control in recent days amid dangerous anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and U.S. threats of stronger Pakistan sanctions. Partly as a punishment, the U.S. over the weekend postponed a major security conference that was scheduled with Afghanistan and Pakistan later this month.
Obama warned that Davis' detention risked further straining relations between the countries, and said local prosecution of a diplomat posed a threat to American diplomacy in general.
The United States insists that he carries diplomatic immunity from prosecution just as diplomats and embassy employees of other nations do in the United States.
Obama spoke after sending Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to smooth over relations with Pakistan, whose cooperation is needed to rout insurgents fighting U.S. troops across the border in Afghanistan and al-Qaida fighters hiding in remote frontier zones.