Obama's Second Term
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|Dan Robinson||October 23rd 2013|
At the White House, President Barack Obama and Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, have agreed on the importance of rebuilding the U.S.-Pakistan relationship. They discussed the issue of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, extremist threats, the transition in Afghanistan and Pakistan's relations with India.
It was the first meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Sharif, who was last at the White House in 1999, and came as both countries move to repair relations severely strained during Obama's first term.
The U.S. commando raid in Pakistan that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in 2011 contributed to tensions, along with a mistaken NATO raid on a Pakistani border post the same year. Neither leader specifically mentioned these events in remarks. President Obama called the peaceful democratic transition in Pakistan "an enormous milestone" and described Pakistan as a very important strategic partner.
"We believe that if Pakistan is secure and peaceful and prosperous, that is not only good for Pakistan, it is good for the region and it is good for the world, and we want to do everything we can to help the prime minister as he moves forward on a bold agenda to achieve that vision," said President Obama.
The two leaders discussed counterterrorism cooperation and what Obama called shared concerns about "senseless violence and extremism" in Pakistan. As he has done elsewhere in Washington, Prime Minister Sharif called for an end to drone strikes the United States has used to target al-Qaida and militant figures in Pakistan's tribal areas.
"Pakistan and the United States have a strong ongoing counterterrorism cooperation. We have agreed to further strengthen this cooperation. I also brought up the issue of drones in our meeting, emphasizing the need for an end to such strikes," said Prime Minister Sharif.
Obama made indirect reference to tensions that drone strikes have created in the bilateral relationship. He said they agreed on the need to find constructive ways to partner together while respecting Pakistan's sovereignty.
"It is a challenge, it is not easy, and we committed to working together in making sure that rather than this being a source of tension between our two countries, that it can be a source of strength for us working together in a constructive and a respectful way," said Obama.
A joint statement released by the White House said Obama thanked the Pakistani leader for efforts to help defeat al-Qaida, adding they emphasized that no country’s territory should be used to destabilize its neighbors.
On Afghanistan, the two leaders discussed the scheduled withdrawal of foreign forces in 2014, upcoming elections there, and long-term plans for security.
OBAMA: "I am confident that working together we can achieve a goal that is good for Afghanistan, but also helps to protect Pakistan over the long term."
SHARIF: "Let there be no doubt about our commitment for a peaceful and stable Afghanistan. This resolve remains unwavering."
The talks also covered steps under way by Pakistan and India, South Asia's two nuclear weapons states, to resolve longstanding tensions, including over the disputed region of Kashmir.
"Terrorism constitutes a common threat. It is as much a concern to us as it is for India. We need to allay our respective concerns through serious and sincere efforts without indulging in any blame game," said Sharif.
The Pakistani leader said he assured Obama that as "a responsible nuclear state, Pakistan will continue to act with maximum restraint and work toward strengthening strategic stability in South Asia."
On U.S.-Pakistan relations, President Obama said despite what he said would inevitably be some tensions, he hoped goodwill between Americans and Pakistanis will help both countries make progress in their relations.
Dan Robinson writes for VOA, from where this article is adapted.