US: Nawaz says he urged Obama to end drone strikes in Pakistan

24th Oct 2013

WASHINGTON, (Agencies, Dawn): Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Wednesday he urged US President Barack Obama to end drone strikes in Pakistan, touching on a thorny subject in relations between the two countries.

Prime Minister Sharif and President Obama were speaking after a 90-minute long one-on-one meeting at the White House’s Oval Office.

“I also brought up the issue of drones in our meeting, emphasising the need to end … such strikes,” said the prime minister.

For his part, Obama made no mention of drones and remained silent over the issue.

Obama, however, said he wanted to prevent security cooperation from being a source of tension between the US and Pakistan.

Sharif said he brought up the issue of US drone strikes in Pakistan and told the American president that the strikes need to end.

Obama said fighting terrorism was a challenge and was not easy, adding that he and Sharif discussed security and how they can cooperate in ways agreeable to Pakistan.

He added that cooperation would also be extended to Pakistan with regards to the economy and energy crises faced by the country.

The premier said the two leaders discussed Pakistan’s ties with India, including the Kashmir issue. Obama agreed saying Afghanistan and India were also on the agenda.

With US forces preparing to pull out of Afghanistan next year, Obama pledged to brief Sharif fully and to work toward an Afghanistan that is “stable and secure, its sovereignty respected.”

”I’m confident that, working together, we can achieve a goal that is good for Afghanistan, but also helps to protect Pakistan in the long term,” Obama told reporters at the Oval Office.

During discussions over the Kashmir dispute, Obama praised Sharif for seeking to end tensions between the two neighbours.

”Billions of dollars have been spent on an arms race in response to these tensions,” Obama said. ”Those resources could be much more properly invested in education, social welfare programs.”

Moreover, Sharif also invited the US president to visit Pakistan but the invitation was not publicly accepted by Obama.

Earlier, Sharif was welcomed to the White House Wednesday by a military honour guard lining the driveway leading to the West Wing. The premier was accompanied by his special assistant on foreign affairs Tariq Fatemi and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.

Prior to the meeting, officials in both countries were hoping to scale back tensions that escalated after the 2011 US strike inside Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden and last year’s accidental killing of two dozen Pakistani troops in an American airstrike along the Afghan border.

“We want to find ways for our countries to cooperate, even as we have differences on some issues, and we want to make sure that the trajectory of this relationship is a positive one,” White House spokesman Jay Carney had said earlier.

Ahead of his talks with Obama, Sharif had held a breakfast meeting with Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday.

The prime minister’s visit to the White House came a day after the Amnesty International released a report providing new details about the alleged victims of US drone attacks in Pakistan, one of them a 68-year-old grandmother who was hit while farming with her grandchildren.

In Pakistan, there is widespread belief that American drone strikes kill large numbers of civilians.

The White House responded to the Amnesty report by defending the drone program, with Carney saying US counter-terrorism operations “are precise, they are lawful and they are effective.”

Ahead of the withdrawal, the US is seeking to push through a peace deal between the Afghan Taliban and the government in Kabul.

Pakistan is seen as key to this process because of its historical connection to the Taliban. It helped the group grab power in Afghanistan in 1996 and is widely believed to have maintained ties as a hedge against neighbour and rival India – an allegation denied by Islamabad.

Ahead of his trip to the US, Sharif said he planned to ask Obama for American intervention in resolving the Kashmir dispute. – AP/Reuters/

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