WASHINGTON - The US State Department was quick to take back Secretary of State John Kerry’s comments during a television interview in Pakistan on Thursday that American drone strikes in Pakistani territory will soon come to an end, stating, “In no way would we ever deprive ourselves of a tool to fight a threat if it arises.”

“I would make very clear that even as we use one tactic less or more in a different place, or we move around from where we’re focused on certain things, in no way would we ever deprive ourselves of a tool that would help us fight a threat if it arises,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters at the daily Press briefing. Responding to a series of questions about Kerry’s comments, she said, “This was in no way indicating a change in policy. It’s really been reinforcing things I think we’ve said for months on this.

“Clearly the goal of counter-terrorism operations, broadly speaking, is to get to a place where we don’t have to use them because the threat goes away. Now, we’re all realistic about the fact that there is a threat that remains and that we have to keep up our fight in this and other places around the world,” Harf added.

President Barack Obama, in a speech in May this year had said that the US has made significant progress against core al Qaeda by using these exact counterterrorism tools.

“But that as we make that progress the need to use these tools will, of course, be reduced,” said Harf. She said that Kerry has reinforced the changes that the US expects to take place in the programme over time, but there is no exact timeline to provide.

“Obviously, a lot of this is driven by the situation on the ground,” Harf said.

“The goal here is, of course, that as we have success against al Qaeda – which we’ve talked about a lot the success we’ve had in this region of the world against core al Qaeda – that the tool will obviously – we need to use this tactic less going forward, and that’s what the Secretary was referencing,” she said. Closely questioned on the subject, the spokesperson said nobody is talking about depriving the US government of a tool against terrorists. “I think there’s a difference between reducing the threat so much that you can use the tool less, or even possibly in a certain part of the world, hypothetically speaking, not have to use it anymore,” she said.

“We are not there in this region. There’s a difference between that and stating we’re going to deprive ourselves of a tool,” she said.

“Clearly, the President and the Secretary both believe that we need to use the tools that we have to defend the United States and our interests,” she added. Several hours later, however, Kerry’s spokeswoman in Washington walked back the comments, particularly the notion that the programme will “end” – Kerry’s word – rather than be reduced.

“I would make very clear that even as we use one tactic less or more in a different place, or we move around from where we’re focused on certain things, in no way would we ever deprive ourselves of a tool that would help us fight a threat if it arises,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf. Kerry was not announcing a policy shift, she said.

“We’re all realistic about the fact that there is a threat that remains and that we have to keep up our vigilance – excuse me – the fight in this and other places around the world. So this was in no way indicating a change in policy. It’s really been reinforcing things I think we’ve said for months on this.” “Obviously, in a perfect world, we would all like to get to a place where there is no threat,” Harf said. “Now, nobody’s naive about the fact that one still exists, and that we’re going to keep up the pressure.”

Specifically asked to elaborate on her statement that US won’t give up using drones, Harf said, “I would not want to further expand on what it means when I say, ‘We would not deprive ourselves of a tool.’ There’s a very different thing between saying we would keep tools that we think help us achieve our goals, and saying we reserve a certain right to do a certain thing in a certain place. I’m – those are two different things.”

Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Lisa Curtis in a recent analysis claimed that it is Pakistani policy that makes the drone strikes necessary. “The continuation of drone strikes signals US frustration with Pakistan’s unwillingness to crack down consistently and comprehensively on groups that find sanctuary in Pakistan’s Tribal Areas,” she wrote.

“There continue to be close ties between the Pakistan military and the Taliban-allied Haqqani Network, which attacks US forces in Afghanistan and undermines the overall US and NATO strategy there.”

“No doubt a better alternative to the drones would be Pakistani action against terrorist sanctuaries,” said Lisa Curtis.