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Drones On Agenda In Pakistan PM-Obama White House Meeting

By Michele Kelemen | NPR
Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

President Obama held talks at the White House Wednesday with Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. U.S. drone strikes on militants along the Pakistani-Afghan border were on the agenda.



From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block.

President Obama is trying to turn the page with Pakistan. It's been two years since tensions boiled over after the U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden. So, today, the president met with Pakistan's new prime minister and raised hopes that the countries can work together to fight terrorism.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It's a challenge. It's not easy. And we committed to working together and making sure that rather than this being a source of tension between our two countries, that it could be a source of strength for us working together in a constructive and a respectful way.

BLOCK: Today's White House meeting was also meant to show support for Nawaz Sharif, who says he wants to help his country become modern and moderate.

NPR's Michele Kelemen joins us know. And Michele, first of all, what was Prime Minister Sharif looking for here?

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: He is making a big pitch here in Washington for more trade and investment in Pakistan. Trade not aid, as he likes to put it. He says he knows that Pakistan faces many challenges, both economic and security, and the U.S. is really key to that. And President Obama says he and Sharif did spend a lot of time today in their White House talks, talking about the economy and how the U.S. can be helpful, for instance, on energy and infrastructure projects in Pakistan.

And the Obama administration also seems eager to show that these relations are on the mend.

BLOCK: Well, the visit comes during a week in which human rights groups are challenging the use of drones by the Obama administration, including in Pakistan. There was a report from Amnesty International reporting high civilian casualties from drone strikes in recent years. So what did the Pakistani prime minister have to say about that?

KELEMEN: Sharif is calling for an end to these drone strikes. He said - he emphasized that in his White House meeting. He describes them as illegal and a breach of Pakistani sovereignty. Now, White House officials have really shown no sign that they're willing to stop these drone strikes. They argue they're legal and effective. They also say they believe they cause fewer casualties than the human rights groups report.

But while it doesn't look like Sharif is going to return to Pakistan with any deal on that, experts say it is possible that the U.S. could scale back the target list or make some other compromises. And you did hear President Obama kind of talking in a little bit of a different way. He said that he talked to Sharif about ways to partner together, ways that would, in his words, respect Pakistan's sovereignty and respect the concerns of both countries.

BLOCK: Now, you mentioned aid earlier, Michele. And we mentioned that relations between these two countries hit a real low few years back. The United States withheld aid at the time. Now that assistance is going to resume. What's the story there?

KELEMEN: That's right. We're hearing that the U.S. is resuming aid quietly and that it's more than a billion dollars. Much of that is security assistance to help the Pakistanis fight terrorism and fight militants, particularly in these tribal areas.

BLOCK: So in the end, do you think these countries have really turned a page?

KELEMEN: Well, the tone has certainly improved. But many of the same problems are there. You know, the U.S. is worried about militants finding safe haven in Pakistan and threatening NATO troops next door in Afghanistan. That concern is only going to rise as U.S. troops pull out of Afghanistan.

And the U.S. is also still concerned, as we heard the White House say again today, about the fate of Shakil Alfridi. He's a doctor who helped the CIA track down Osama bin Laden. And he's been in a Pakistani jail. White House spokesman Jay Carney says his treatment is unjust and unwarranted. And the U.S. has made that position clear, as he put it, in a sustained way.

BLOCK: OK, NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen. Michele, thanks.

KELEMEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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