WASHINGTON DC: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called on US President Barack Obama to end drone strikes, which are widely unpopular in his country, during a meeting in the White House on Wednesday.
Speaking next to Obama in the Oval Office, Sharif said he “brought up the issues of drones during our meeting, emphasising the need for an end to such strikes.”
Obama did not mention drones when addressing reporters. But in a joint statement, the two leaders said their partnership was “based on the principles of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Obama also tried to reassure Pakistan on the status of Afghanistan, where US combat forces plan to withdraw next year.
Obama said he was “confident” of a solution “that is good for Afghanistan, but also helps to protect Pakistan over the long term.”
Obama hailed Pakistan’s sacrifices from extremism. More than 40,000 Pakistanis have died in attacks over the past decade.
“I know the Prime Minister is very much committed to try to reduce this incidence of terrorism inside Pakistan” and also wants to stop its export, Obama said.
Speaking to reporters later, Nawaz said that it was imperative that Pakistan puts its house in order first.
Strategic dialogue slated for March 2014
One of the outcomes of the meeting was the definitive revival of strategic dialogue between US and Pakistan with March 2014 set for resumption of meetings.
“Both leaders welcomed the resumption of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue and reaffirmed its importance as the suitable framework for guiding the bilateral relationship,” a readout from the joint statement read.
The discussed the forthcoming Ministerial-level Strategic Dialogue, which Secretary Kerry would be hosting in Washington by March 2014, will focus on people-centered initiatives and on results-oriented outcomes in support of the long-term stability, prosperity, and security of both the United States and Pakistan.
In addition to that, the two countries also decided on the strategic priorities for the five working groups including: 1) Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism; 2) Economics and Finance; 3) Energy; 4) Security, Strategic Stability, and Non-Proliferation; and 5) the Defense Consultative Group.
Earlier, US President Barack Obama welcomed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the White House on Wednesday afternoon as the two leaders began their meeting aimed at strengthening US-Pakistan relationship and cooperation in a number of fields including the prickly topics of drone strikes and Dr Shakil Afridi.
“The meeting will highlight the importance and resilience of the US-Pakistan relationship and provide an opportunity for us to strengthen cooperation on issues of mutual concern, such as energy, trade and economic development, regional stability, and countering violent extremism,” an earlier White House statement said.
Nawaz, in his first-ever meeting with Obama, is expected to raise the issue of drone strikes. Bilateral trade and economic cooperation is also on the agenda. Afghanistan and the regional security situation would also come under discussion.
On the other hand, Obama is likely to seek Pakistan’s support for peace and stability in Afghanistan and ensuring a smooth drawdown of American troops by the end of 2014 along with release of Dr Shakil Afridi may be discussed.
Both sides have stressed a positive tone ahead of the meeting between the top political leaders. Islamabad and Washington have been working to ease 2011 tensions when a spate of incidents strained the relationship.
Senior Obama Administration officials have assured the PM that the US would assist Pakistan in speeding up its economic development and overcoming energy shortages.
Earlier, the Obama administration announced the resumption of about $1.6 billion economic and security assistance for Pakistan, which could not be delivered in the recent years.
Nawaz has had a series of high level meetings with the top officials of the Obama administration, including Vice-President Joe Biden, secretaries of State, Defence, Commerce, Energy and Treasury as well as the US trade representatives.
He has also met lawmakers and interacted with the Washington’s think tank community and the Pakistani American community.