A Pakistani court delayed a hearing Thursday on whether a U.S. Embassy worker detained for fatally shooting two Pakistani men has diplomatic immunity.
The decision came a day after a visit by U.S. Sen. John Kerry, who pressed for a quick resolution to avert a meltdown in the countries' relations.
The chief justice of the Lahore High Court agreed to a government request for a three-week delay to allow it more time to prepare its own view on the issue of immunity. The hearings will resume March 14.
The case is straining Washington's already troubled relationship with Pakistan, a key partner in the war in Afghanistan and in battling al-Qaida and other Islamic militant networks.
The U.S. says Raymond Davis shot two armed Pakistani men in self-defense as they tried to rob him, and that his detention is illegal under international agreements covering diplomats.
Pakistani leaders, fearful of stoking more outrage in a public already rife with anti-U.S. sentiment, have said the matter is up to the courts to decide.
Pakistan's federal government will also submit an opinion on the matter and had asked the court for more time to prepare, Deputy Attorney General Naveed Inayat Malik said, without elaborating.
It was not immediately clear why the government needed the extra time. Government officials had previously said that they were ready to issue their findings to the court at Thursday's hearing.
Chief Justice Ijaz Chaudhry said he could not issue a ruling before getting the government statement.
"How can I issue any order when I do not have anything from the federal government regarding his diplomatic immunity?" Chaudhry asked. He did not say how long he expected a ruling to take after receiving the needed statements.
"Hang Raymond Davis," read a banner at the court compound.
Davis has been held in a Pakistani jail since his arrest in eastern Punjab province's main city of Lahore immediately after the Jan. 27 shootings. His name has also been put on a list barring him from leaving Pakistan, Malik said.
Kerry hopes for 'goodwill'
On Wednesday, Kerry said he was hopeful that Washington and Islamabad can make progress "in the next few days" toward resolving the dispute.
Kerry held two days of meetings with senior Pakistani government officials and opposition powerbrokers.
"Now everybody has to work in goodwill to make the words mean something," Kerry told reporters before boarding a plane in the Pakistani capital.
"They will only mean something with actions that result in an appropriate and judicious outcome being accomplished. I think that will be done," he added.
Islamabad may ask U.S. officials to consider approaching relatives of the men Davis killed "and try and sort out a deal with them," said political analyst Ejaz Haider.
There is mounting speculation the United States might back payment of compensation, or blood money, as laid out under Pakistani law, but the United States might be loathe to support payment in what it sees as a case of self-defense.
Waseem Shamshad, brother of one of the slain men, ruled out the possibility of striking any deal with the U.S. government or Davis. "We stand by our position that there is no possibility of patching it up with them," he told Reuters.
Pakistan's government has appeared divided on how to handle the Davis case.
It is under pressure from U.S. officials to release him, while thousands of Pakistanis have called for him to be tried on charges of murder.
Much of the confusion over Davis' status lies in his background.
The U.S. says Davis was part of the embassy's "administrative and technical staff," which means he might have been involved with security, but Pakistani media have focused on him being a former Special Forces soldier who runs an American "protective services" company with his wife.
Although the U.S. says he's an embassy employee, he apparently had been attached for a while to the consulate in Lahore, further adding to the confusion about his status since consulate employees do not always get the same level of diplomatic protection as embassy staffers.
On Thursday, the top legal official for Punjab province maintained that Davis did not qualify for immunity because of his connection to the Lahore consulate.
Though Davis was holding a diplomatic passport, "it does not mean that he enjoys immunity from criminal prosecution," Punjab Advocate General Khawaja Haris said.
The AP also obtained a photocopy of an ID and a salary document that Davis apparently gave Pakistani authorities showing that he was scheduled to be paid for "overseas protective sec. svcs." The ID card identifies him as a Defense Department contractor.