Afghan peace on agenda in Obama-Sharif talks
WASHINGTON (PAN): US President Barack Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are likely to discuss a wide-range of bilateral issues, including the current situation in Afghanistan and the reconciliation process, when they will be meeting on Wednesday at the White House, senior US officials said Friday.
Sharif, who was voted back to power early this year, departed for Washington and would arrive here on Sunday on the first official visit by a Pakistani premier in the Obama administration.
Officials with know-how of the trip said expectations are high from the Obama-Sharif meeting.
“President Obama looks forward to discussions with Sharif on ways we can advance our shared interest of a stable, secure, and prosperous Pakistan,” the White House said ahead of the first ever-meeting between Obama and Sharif. The Vice President, Joe Biden, would also attend the meeting at the White House.
“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,” the White House said.
Secretary of State John Kerry would meet Sharif Sunday evening soon after Sharif arrives, before he embarks on a three-nation European trip late Sunday night.
The current situation in Afghanistan, the peace and reconciliation process and Sharif’s own effort to improve his relationship with Kabul are certainly expected to figure in during the talks.
“There has been a kind of a continued and sustained commitment to be facilitative and constructive partners in the reconciliation process because Pakistan recognises that it’s as integral as it is to a stable Afghanistan as well,” a senior State Department official said on condition of anonymity.
When Kerry meets Sharif on Sunday, the recently-concluded talks on the bilateral security agreement (BSA) are expected to be discussed. Kerry was recently in Kabul, where he claimed progress in his talks with President Karzai on some key issues regarding the security agreement.
“Having just nailed down the parameters of the BSA, the Secretary will undoubtedly be asked about the current status of the BSA, where he sees it going, where they see reconciliation, and more broadly, regional stability issues in light of 2014 fast approaching,” the official said.
“But there’s not a specific do out on this or a specific ask. It’s a sharing of information so that we can kind of jointly strategize,” the official added.
Relations between Pakistan and the US, fractious allies in the "war on terror", have been on the mend this year after lurching from crisis to crisis in 2011 and 2012.
The CIA's campaign of missile strikes from unmanned aircraft targeting suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan's tribal areas along the Afghan border has been a significant thorn in relations.
The drone strikes are deeply unpopular in Pakistan and Islamabad publicly condemns them as counter-productive and a violation of sovereignty, though previous governments are known to have given their tacit support to them.
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