Obama, Pak­istani PM fo­cus on ‘di­a­logue’

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY SU­SAN CRAB­TREE

The White House was tight-lipped about the de­tails of a Tues­day meet­ing be­tween Pres­i­dent Obama and Pak­istani Prime Min­is­ter Yousuf Raza Gi­lani and the sta­tus of ne­go­ti­a­tions over the CIA’S drone cam­paign against al Qaeda in Pak­istan.

Af­ter the meet­ing, which took place Tues­day in Seoul dur­ing the last day of an in­ter­na­tional nu­clear sum­mit, nei­ther Pres­i­dent Obama nor Mr. Gi­lani men­tioned drone strikes, and nei­ther took ques­tions from re­porters.

While Mr. Obama ac­knowl­edged the strained re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries, he said he wel­comed the Pak­istani par­lia­ment’s re­view of the “na­ture of this re­la­tion­ship.”

“I think it’s im­por­tant for us to get it right,” he said. “I think it’s im­por­tant to have can­did di­a­logue to work through these is­sues in a con­struc­tive fash­ion and a trans­par­ent fash­ion.”

Mr. Gi­lani thanked Mr. Obama for the praise and for re­spect­ing Pak­istan’s sovereignty.

“We are com­mit­ted to fight against ex­trem­ism and ter­ror­ism,” Mr. Gi­lani said, un­der­scor­ing the im­por­tance of a peace­ful tran­si­tion in Afghanistan.

Dur­ing a brief­ing with re­porters af­ter the meet­ing, Deputy Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Ben Rhodes did not ac­knowl­edge the drone pro­gram specif­i­cally but said the two lead­ers dis­cussed ways to con­tinue work­ing to fight al Qaeda.

“In terms of coun­tert­er­ror­ism, with­out get­ting into any spe­cific pro­grams or op­er­a­tions, what I would say is that we dis­cussed ways in which we can en­sure that we have an on­go­ing di­a­logue at all lev­els of our gov­ern­ment,” Mr. Rhodes told re­porters dur­ing a brief­ing.

The As­so­ci­ated Press on Tues­day re­ported that U.S. of­fi­cials in Jan­uary had of­fered key con­ces­sions to Pak­istan’s spy chief that in­cluded ad­vance no­tice and lim­its on the types of tar­gets in a bid to save the CIA’S drone cam­paign.

The con­ces­sions came af­ter warn­ings from Pak­istani of­fi­cials that they would no longer tol­er­ate in­de­pen­dent drone strikes on Pak­istani ter­ri­tory and would cease car­ry­ing out joint raids with U.S. coun­terter­ror­ist teams in­side their coun­try, as they had in the past. In­stead, the Pak­istani of­fi­cials want the U.S. to hand over its in­tel­li­gence so Pak­istani forces can pur­sue the tar­gets them­selves.

Ten­sion be­tween the two un­easy al­lies has never been higher fol­low­ing a string of in­ci­dents that have in­creased fric­tion and eroded trust, in­clud­ing the 2011 dis­cov­ery of Osama bin Laden at a com­pound in­side the coun­try and a bor­der in­ci­dent later that year in which U.S. forces re­turned fire they thought came from a hos­tile post, killing 24 Pak­istani troops.

Last week, the Pak­istani par­lia­ment de­manded that the U.S. cease all uni­lat­eral ac­tions, in­clud­ing drone strikes, as part of a “to­tal re­set” in the re­la­tion­ship.

Mr. Rhodes ac­knowl­edged the Pak­istani par­lia­ment’s ac­tions and tried to stress that Mr. Obama and Mr. Gi­lani had a re­spect­ful dis­cus­sion about it.

“I think the tone was one of mu­tual re­spect and a sin­cere in­ter­est in gain­ing a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of each other’s re­spec­tive po­si­tions, and try­ing to de­ter­mine the best way in which the United States and Pak­istan can work through the types of is­sues that are be­ing dis­cussed in the Pak­istani par­lia­ment, and again, that rep­re­sent the in­ter­est of both coun­tries,” he said dur­ing the brief­ing with re­porters.

The two lead­ers also dis­cussed the Afghan-led rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion re­mains open to talks that would sup­port rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with rebel Tal­iban forces, Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton said Wed­nes­day. The Tal­iban pulled out of pre­lim­i­nary ne­go­ti­a­tions af­ter the burn­ing of the Ko­ran by Amer­i­can troops and the mur­der of 16 civil­ians at the hands of a U.S. sol­dier.

In Fe­bru­ary, Mr. Gi­lani urged Tal­iban lead­ers and other Afghan in­sur­gent groups to take part in a peace process to end the decade of war.

Dur­ing their Tues­day meet­ing, the tur­moil over the Ko­ran burn­ings and killings of 16 Afghan civil­ians didn’t come up, Mr. Rhodes said. In­stead, Mr. Obama and Mr. Gi­lani fo­cused on the need to con­tinue the di­a­logue be­tween the United States, Afghanistan and Pak­istan.

“I think the pres­i­dent made it clear that he be­lieves that it’s im­por­tant for Pak­istan to con­tinue to be a part of that dis­cus­sion and to con­tinue to work to sup­port an Afghan-led rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process,” Mr. Rhodes said. “And Prime Min­is­ter Gi­lani very much com­mit­ted him­self and his gov­ern­ment to sup­port those ef­forts go­ing for­ward as well.”

Two Texas law­mak­ers, joined by 17 bor­der sher­iffs from Texas, Ari­zona and New Mex­ico, have asked De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panetta to au­tho­rize the ship­ment of sur­plus equip­ment be­ing re­turned from the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan to the bor­der with Mex­ico as a mat­ter of “na­tional se­cu­rity.”

Reps. Ted Poe, a Re­pub­li­can, and Henry Cuel­lar, a Demo­crat, said in a let­ter the mas­sive draw­down of U.S. forces has re­sulted in the ship­ment of more than 1.5 mil­lion pieces of equip­ment out of Iraq over the past year and that nearly 900,000 items re­main — all of which would be use­ful to fed­eral, state and lo­cal law en­force­ment in their ef­forts to se­cure the bor­der with Mex­ico.

The sur­plus equip­ment in­cludes, among other combat gear, Humvees, weapons, com­mu­ni­ca­tions trail­ers, ob­ser­va­tion plat­forms and night-vi­sion gog­gles.

Mr. Poe also in­tro­duced a House res­o­lu­tion known as the Send Act that would di­rect the De­fense Depart­ment to make 10 per­cent of cer­tain equip­ment re­turn­ing from Iraq avail­able for use by law en­force­ment agen­cies that pa­trol the na­tion’s south­ern bor­der.

“We have brought this right to the sec­re­tary of de­fense be­cause bor­der se­cu­rity is a na­tional se­cu­rity is­sue,” Mr. Poe said. “State and lo­cal of­fi­cials are on the front lines of the south­ern bor­der fight­ing to pro­tect Amer­i­cans from spillover vi­o­lence from Mex­ico.

“They do the best they can with what they’ve got, but they are out­manned and out­gunned by the drug car­tels and they are des­per­ate for more re­sources,” he said.

Mr. Poe said that for years the Amer­i­can peo­ple have in­vested their money in equip­ment that has been used to de­fend the borders of other na­tions and it was time that same equip­ment be used to se­cure the United States.

Mr. Cuel­lar said he joined with Mr. Poe and the bor­der sher­iffs to “help re­in­force col­lab­o­ra­tion” with Mr. Panetta for the “bet­ter­ment of our bor­der com­mu­ni­ties.”

“If we want to boost bor­der se­cu­rity, we have to help law en­force­ment agen­cies beef up their re­sources to meet this de­mand. We can­not have one with­out the other,” said Mr. Cuel­lar. “We in­tend to keep the lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open with the De­fense Depart­ment so we can help our bor­der law en­force­ment agen­cies nav­i­gate the equip­ment ap­pli­ca­tion process.”

In Jan­uary, Mr. Cuel­lar hosted a meet­ing with De­fense Depart­ment As­sis­tant Un­der­sec­re­tary Paul N. Stock­ton in Laredo, Texas, to brief lo­cal law en­force­ment agen­cies on pro­grams avail­able through the De­fense Depart­ment’s Do­mes­tic Pre­pared­ness Sup­port Ini­tia­tive. More than 100 of­fi­cers, in­clud­ing bor­der fed­eral law en­force­ment agents, par­tic­i­pated.

The Do­mes­tic Pre­pared­ness Sup­port Ini­tia­tive co­or­di­nates De­fense Depart­ment ef­forts to iden­tify, eval­u­ate, de­ploy and trans­fer tech­nol­ogy, items and equip­ment to fed­eral, state and lo­cal first re­spon­ders. The ini­tia­tive ful­fills Congress’ in­tent to sup­port public safety and home­land se­cu­rity by lever­ag­ing tax­payer in­vest­ments in de­fense tech­nol­ogy and equip­ment.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pak­istani Prime Min­is­ter Yousuf Raza Gi­lani and Pres­i­dent Obama meet Tues­day on the last day of the Nu­clear Se­cu­rity Sum­mit in Seoul.

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