President Barack Obama said he’s confident the U.S. and Pakistan will be able to build a relationship that both recognizes Pakistani sovereignty and addresses American security concerns.
Speaking before talks with Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, Obama said it was important for the two countries to “get it right” as they seek to restore ties which he conceded had seen strains. Last year’s killing in Pakistan of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and a November air attack by U.S. helicopters that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers angered Pakistan’s government and military.
Obama said he hoped to achieve “the kind of balanced approach” that respects Pakistan’s sovereignty while allowing the U.S. to “battle terrorists who have targeted us in the past.” He was speaking to reporters in Seoul where both leaders were attending a nuclear security summit.
Obama and Gilani met as the U.S. and Pakistan are discussing the future of Central Intelligence Agency drone strikes on al-Qaeda and other targets in Pakistan’s northwest. Gilani’s government has refused to reopen border crossings into Afghanistan that it closed to trucks supplying U.S.-led NATO forces following the November attack.
After their talks today, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters that the two men had been able to make “important progress” and were “working through the tensions.” Rhodes said that the U.S. would welcome Pakistani participation at a NATO meeting in Chicago in May.
The U.S. needs Pakistan’s help as Obama withdraws troops from its neighbor Afghanistan and bids to negotiate peace terms with Taliban guerrillas and other militants, some of which find refuge in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Gilani said today that Pakistan is committed to fighting extremism and terrorism and ensuring stability across its western border.
Pakistan’s military blames the U.S. for the November incident and has demanded an apology, while no charges in the U.S. are expected because officials say the Pakistanis fired first, triggering confusion between the forces in a mountainous region.
Pakistan’s legislature last week began a debate on the future of the relationship between the two countries, a discussion which Obama said today he welcomed. The country’s national security committee, in a report to lawmakers, demanded an end to all drone missions and the imposition of new charges on supplies for U.S. troops.
The CIA’s drones are used to collect intelligence and kill members of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and allied groups in their sanctuaries in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and are central to the U.S. strategy to curb militancy in the region.
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