WASHINGTON  -   President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif Wednesday expressed their conviction that an enduring Pak-US partnership is vital to regional and international security and they recognised their shared interest in Pakistan’s economic growth and development, regional stability, and mutually determined measures to counter terrorism.
Speaking next to Obama in the Oval Office, Sharif said he “brought up the issue of drones (which are widely unpopular in his country) during our meeting, emphasising the need for an end to such strikes” and the president ‘assured’ him of considering the issue seriously.
Obama did not mention drones when addressing reporters and did not give any concrete assurance on this count. He however did say they need to find a constructive way that “respects Pakistan’s sovereignty”, while addressing concerns for both sides.
In a joint statement after their one and a half hour meeting Wednesday afternoon, the two leaders said their partnership was “based on the principles of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.” They said their discussion focused on regarding energy, economy, education and terrorism.
President Obama said he had ‘excellent talks’ with Prime Minister Sharif on a wide range of issues, and pledged US support to Pakistan’s goals for progress in every field. He said the United States wants peaceful and prosperous Pakistan which is good for the region and the world.
“We want to do everything we can to support Pakistan,” the US leader added. He said they discussed US support in fulfilling Pakistan’s goals for energy and infrastructure projects. The US President said that his country wanted to initiate new trade projects with Pakistan.
Prime Minister Sharif expressed his appreciation for the US support, saying his primary objectives were education and energy as well as addressing extremism. He said Islamabad sought relations with the US based on mutual respect. He said the ties with the US are quite rooted in history, adding his country is faced with myriad challenges like energy and terrorism.
About cooperation against terrorism and extremism, Obama acknowledged “it is a challenge and isn’t easy”. He said he and Sharif discussed security and how they can better cooperate. “We committed to working together and making sure that rather than this being a source of tension between our two countries, it can be a source of strength.”
In context of regional peace and stability, Sharif said they discussed building a constructive relationship with Pakistan’s archrival India and resolution of Kashmir issue. He also said that he briefed the president about his policies for peaceful relations with both India and Afghanistan.
Obama also tried to reassure Pakistan on the status of Afghanistan, where US combat forces plan to withdraw next year. He said he was ‘confident’ of a solution “that is good for Afghanistan, but also helps protect Pakistan over the long term.” Obama also told reports about how he had visited Pakistan when he was a university student. He also recalled that he learnt making ‘Daal Keema’ from the mother of a Pakistani student.
President Obama hailed Pakistan’s sacrifices from extremism. “I know the prime minister is very much committed to try to reduce this incidence of terrorism inside Pakistan” and also wants to stop its export, Obama said. Obama said his country and Pakistan are committed to working in concert against terrorism, as the two countries suffered terribly at the hand of terrorists in past.
More than 40,000 Pakistanis have died in attacks by militants over the past decade. But across the border in Afghanistan, officials have long voiced suspicions about the connections between the hardline movement and Islamabad’s powerful intelligence services. Pakistan, in turn, has voiced alarm at the influence of its historic rival India in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime.
After the joint media talk, PM Sharif spoke to the media separately, and said that they (him and the US President) also discussed Dr Aafia’s case. “President Obama took up the issue of Shakil Afridi,” Sharif added.
The PM said that they also discussed Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the progress on the trial of the Mumbai attack (26/11) accused.
On economy, Sharif said that he told the US President Pakistan needs open market access for its products. The PM said he also urged President Obama to promote US investment in energy projects in order to help end power crisis in Pakistan.
The joint statement issued after the Oval office meeting said: “They acknowledged the substantial progress in the bilateral relationship over the last year and noted its resilient nature. The President and the Prime Minister affirmed US-Pakistan friendship and close cooperation and they recalled their positive contributions to international peace and security at crucial junctures during the Cold War and in the post-9/11 period... Reaffirming the strong relationship between the two countries, they stressed that our enduring partnership is based on the principles of respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
President Obama conveyed appreciation for Pakistan’s internal and regional security challenges and affirmed that a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic Pakistan was an essential partner for the United States in the advancement of shared goals of peace, security, and socio-economic development in South Asia. He congratulated Prime Minister Sharif on being elected to office in the historic May elections, observing that the smooth democratic transition between two elected governments was a milestone for the democratic institutions in Pakistan.
Earlier, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif arrived at the White House for the much anticipated meeting with President Obama, which was described as a significant one and that lasted for almost 90 minutes. The prime minister also visited the Oval Office during his time at the White House.
The prime minister was welcomed to the White House by a military honour guard lining the driveway leading to the West Wing. He was accompanied by Foreign Affairs and National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz, Special Assistant Tariq Fatmi and Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.
The mere fact that Obama and Sharif met was seen as a sign of progress. Tensions between the US and Pakistan peaked in 2011 following the U.S. raid inside Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden and the accidental killing of two dozen Pakistani troops in an American airstrike along the Afghan border that same year.
A 2,500-word joint statement issued by the White House after the one-on-one meeting in Washington and attributed to the two leaders did not mention drone attacks, referring only to a need to respect “sovereignty and territorial integrity”.
It said President Obama also “conveyed appreciation for Pakistan’s internal and regional security challenges”. Both leaders, wearing same-colour suits and ties, refused to take questions at the end of their two-hour meeting in the Oval Office.