Officials plan to discuss everything from water to energy, but the three-day U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue will be overshadowed by the ongoing counterinsurgency campaigns in the Afghan-Pakistan border region and the strain the conflict has put on bilateral relations.
"Pakistani-U.S. relations have taken a hit in the past few weeks," said Mark Quarterman, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It's actually very timely that the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue is occurring after this period so they can sit down and clear the air."
Officials organized into 13 working groups -- including agriculture, water, energy and law enforcement -- will meet on Wednesday and Thursday. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi wrap up the talks with a plenary session on Friday.
Key issues for discussion will be a multi-year U.S. military assistance package for Islamabad and floods that inundated an Italy-sized swath of Pakistan in August, causing $9.7 billion in damages.
"The talks are important to Pakistan because they provide a way to broaden the discussion beyond just counterterrorism and to talk about things that are important to Pakistan: energy cooperation, trade, agriculture, a whole host of issues," said Lisa Curtis, an analyst at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.
But the war in Afghanistan will dominate much of the conversation.
"The objective of the strategic dialogue will be to get us as close as possible to the same strategic page in Afghanistan and to make a public declaration to that effect," said Teresita Schaffer, the head of the South Asia Program at the CSIS.
The series of rounds in the strategic dialogue that began in March comes as the two sides work to repair relations strained over the U.S.-led war after a cross-border incursion by a NATO helicopter September 30 resulted in fighting that killed two Pakistani border guards.
The incursion, coming amid ramped-up U.S. drone attacks on northwest Pakistan and U.S. criticism of Pakistani failure to aggressively pursue al Qaeda militants, prompted Islamabad to close its border crossing near the Khyber Pass to NATO supply trucks for 10 days.
"Definitely these are the issues which we have been raising with them (Americans) and we will continue to raise with them," a senior Pakistani government official said on condition of anonymity. "Such acts do not help war against terrorists, rather such acts complicate the issues."
Differences over the war in the border region are strong. The U.S. military is under pressure to show signs of progress in Afghanistan ahead of a December review by President Barack Obama to assess whether his war strategy is effective.
The review may help determine how quickly to begin the transition to Afghan security control, a process Obama has pledged to start in July along with an initial withdrawal of U.S. forces.
DIFFERENT STRATEGIC PRIORITIES
But attacks by suspected U.S. drone aircraft in Pakistan's northwest are deeply unpopular with the Pakistani public and leave the weak government of President Asif Ali Zardari ever more vulnerable.
"Pakistan would like to categorically emphasize that under no circumstances can they keep having these helicopter incursions into Pakistan," said Talat Masood, a defense analyst and former general in Islamabad. "It's quite possible even the frequency of the drone attacks will come into question."
The Obama administration also has become deeply concerned about the potential for an attack in the United States by militants based in Pakistan, a fear made more acute by the failed Times Square bombing last spring and a recent European terrorism alert.
The United States has begun to support Afghan President Hamid Karzai's efforts to reconcile elements of the Taliban insurgency with the government, a move Pakistan has long backed. But it is not clear Washington and Islamabad agree on Pakistan's role in the reconciliation process, an issue that may come up during the strategic dialogue.
Pakistan has a history of nurturing Afghan militants as a means of countering the influence in Afghanistan of its longtime rival India. Islamabad's view of its role in the reconciliation process is likely to be one in which it can manage New Delhi's influence in the country, said Schaffer.
"We have very different strategic priorities," she said. "I see very little prospect of the Pakistanis changing their strategic priority, so the real question is whether the United States is prepared to live with the Pakistanis' priority being in the drivers seat."