Afghan Issue to Dominate White House Talks

WASHINGTON: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was accorded a red-carpet reception on arrival here yesterday for a three-day official visit to the United States, while his foreign secretary urged Washington to play a role in resolving the core issue of Kashmir with India and the White House maintained that the Afghanistan will dominate the US-Pakistan summit. Prime Minister Sharif will have wide-ranging talks with President Barack Obama and other administration officials on regional situation and bilateral matters during his visit.

He was received at Andrews Air Force Base by Ambassador Peter Selfridge and other senior US officials. Adviser to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States Jalil Abbas Jilani and Ambassador to the United Nations Maleeha Lodhi were also present to welcome the prime minister. PM Sharif will go through a tight laid-out schedule. He will meet President Obama on Thursday (tomorrow). A day earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry will call on him. Soon after his arrival, the prime minister was scheduled to have an interaction with members of the Pakistani community.

Hours earlier, both Pakistan and the United States discounted the possibility of a civil nuclear deal between the two countries during Prime Minister Sharif’s official visit to this capital city. But White House spokesman Josh Earnest did state that President Obama and the Pakistani leader will discuss “nuclear security” during their talks on Oct 22 in Washington, at which Afghanistan will be a major topic. He added that Obama was looking forward to welcoming PM Sharif. The visit of Prime minister Sharif is also “an opportunity to strengthen our cooperation on issues of mutual concern, including economic growth, trade and investment, clean energy, global health, climate change, nuclear security, counter-terrorism, and regional stability,” Earnest said on the eve of the Pakistani leader’s arrival.

Sharif’s trip comes a week after Obama announced he will keep more US troops for a longer period of time in Afghanistan. “We certainly have an important security relationship and the security cooperation between our two countries is beneficial to the safety and security of the citizens in both our countries,” said the White House spokesman. “And I’m confident that will be the focal point of discussions.” News reports in the US media suggest that the Obama administration is persuading Pakistan to sign a nuclear deal, which will enable Pakistan to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group if it agrees to accept certain limitations on its nuclear programme.

“About the sort of reports that the United States and Pakistan were planning a (civil nuclear deal) – or published reports indicated that there may be a breakthrough in this regard, and I would significantly reduce your expectations about that occurring on Thursday,” Earnest told reporters at his daily news briefing. On his part, Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry categorically stated, “We are not signing a nuclear deal. No deal, not of any kind.” He said that there were no preconditions in the US-Pakistan dialogue, as such talks reflected a desire for “remaining engaged with mutual respect and understanding.”

“Our nuclear programme is one dimensional: stopping Indian aggression before it happens,” the foreign secretary said. Responding to a question, the foreign secretary said “It is the responsibility of the US and the international community to help resolve the problem of Kashmir, which was the main issue with India.” “During the Prime Minister’s visit, we will talk about the tension with India on the Line of Control,” he said. “Pakistan wants to have good and peaceful ties with its neighbours, including India, and for this purpose Prime Minister Sharif also went to New Delhi last year to attend the oath-taking ceremony of (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi but no positive response was received from India,” he said. He said despite peace overtures, Pakistan did not get any positive response from India.

Agencies add: Talking to the media in London before leaving for New York, Sharif said that no compromise on Pakistan’s nuclear assets is possible. He said that national interest of the country is the top priority of the government. Sharif said his visit will improve relations between the two countries. Answering a question on this occasion, the PM said “Who was the PM in 1999 at the time of nuclear explosions? Pakistan’s national interest is our top priority.”

He said solid evidence of Indian intelligence agency RAW’s interference in Pakistan has been provided to the United Nations. Answering a question over Pakistani politics, Nawaz said crying rigging after every election defeat is a proof of political immaturity. “There must be some stance that PTI remains firm at. Now they are raising the voter lists’ issue,” he said. He added that the government had set up the judicial commission and held the election as well but didn’t demand a stay order from the court. He said the PTI should learn some lesson from the crushing defeat in elections. The PM said that there is no pressure on the government about China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and work is in progress on various projects. He said that loadshedding will be over by 2018.


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