WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama will meet next month at the White House with Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, with the White House saying that their talks will focus on issues such as energy, trade, regional stability and countering violent extremism, it was officially announced Friday.
The US leader’s invitation was conveyed to the Pakistani leader by Secretary of State John Kerry who met him at his hotel suite.
Obama was meeting Friday with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the White House.
A Pakistani spokesman said Prime Minister Sharif is pleased to accept the invitation.
“On Wednesday, October 23, President Obama will welcome Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan to the White House,” a White House statement said.
The White House said Prime Minister Sharif’s “visit will highlight the importance and resilience of the US-Pakistan relationship and provide an opportunity for us to strengthen cooperation on issues of mutual concern, such as energy, trade and economic development, regional stability, and countering violent extremism.”
“The President looks forward to discussions with Prime Minister Sharif on ways we can advance our shared interest of a stable, secure, and prosperous Pakistan,” the statement added.
After the White House statement, the State Department said Prime Minister Sharif’s visit to the White House is going to be ‘important’ and deal with wide-ranging subjects of common interest. “It’s going to be a very full agenda. We’ve already started to talk about a roadmap between now and then to work on the agenda, and we’ve done some of that work here in New York,” a senior State Department official said.
The official noted that Prime Minister Sharif came to office after some historic elections. “And in the short intervening period, he’s made it fairly clear that he’s committed to improving relations not only with his neighbours, but as well, and importantly, with the United States. It’s going to be a visit focused on our areas of mutual interests or mutual goals of regional stability, improved relations across South Asia, deepening our partnership of mutual cooperation on counterterrorism, strategic stability.”
In a background briefing, the American official noted that economic growth inside Pakistan clearly will be on the Pakistani agenda.
The two sides will “continue to have some frank discussions about some serious challenges and serious concerns that we continue to face,” the official added.
Regarding the end of the war in Afghanistan in 2014, the official said one of the pillars of the strategy to bring that war to a responsible end is going to remain regional stability.
“So the visit will as well, of course, focus on how Pakistan can be part of that solution - part of the solution of regional peace, security, stability, particularly given how militant groups continue to threaten security in that region.”
In response to a question about Islamabad exploring talks with TTP, the official said Pakistanis think it’s worth trying because there’s overwhelming popular support for it, and most of the parties, including the government parties, ran on a platform of saying they were going to try it. On the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, the American officials said “the intent is to have one round of discussions in each of the five working groups by the end of the year, at which point there would be a ministerial meeting to evaluate progress and map out continued cooperation.”
During Secretary of State Kerry’s call on the Pakistani leader on the margins of the UN General Assembly, the two sides reviewed the state of bilateral relationship and “agreed to intensify the engagements in the coming weeks and months to further expand and deepen bilateral cooperation in all areas,” a Pakistan spokesman said.
“It was also agreed to convene meetings of the various Working Groups under the revived Strategic Dialogue mechanism.”
Prime Minister Sharif noted that improvement in security, revival of economy and overcoming the energy crisis were the key priorities of his government.
The prime minister also emphasised that greater trade between Pakistan and the US would contribute to the economic prosperity of the people of Pakistan and help in evolving a mutually beneficial relationship between the two countries.
Extending President Obama’s invitation to the prime minister for October 23 visit, Secretary Kerry said the US leader will welcome Prime Minister Sharif to the White House.
This high-level interaction, Secretary Kerry stressed, would provide the necessary impetus to move towards a long-term Pakistan-US engagement.
Spokesman Aizaz Chaudhry said “Matters of mutual interest including regional stability and situation in Afghanistan were also discussed during the meeting.”
Monitoring Desk adds: Setting the terms for peace talks with the Taliban, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Thursday said the militants will have to “renounce” violence and recognise the country’s constitution before engaging in a dialogue with his government.
At the same time, he voiced fears that continued US drone attacks would wreck his policy to negotiate with the Pakistani Taliban.
“Once the talks start, then of course, we consider them (drones) as something that has the ability to break the talks, which must be avoided at all costs,” Sharif said in an interview to the Wall Street Journal.
The Sharif government had offered peace talks to the Pakistani Taliban but a spate of attacks, including the one that killed a senior Army General and the Peshawar church attack, has put it on the backfoot.
Sharif, in the interview, laid out the terms that would be available to the militants. “They will have to renounce terrorism,” said Sharif, adding, “They (Pakistani Taliban) will have to abide by the constitution of Pakistan.”
“It’s been often said by them that they don’t recognise the constitution of the country. But the constitution has to be recognised. If we agree on addressing this terrorism, they will have to be disarmed, lay down their arms,” he said.
Sharif said Pakistan will proceed with a plan to build a gas pipeline from Iran, despite objections from the United States, and that he plans to raise the issue of American drone strikes in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly.
Nawaz acknowledged frictions with the US but said he believed that the issues could be overcome. “President Obama was very kind to call me up immediately after my election and express his desire to work with Pakistan. I also want to work with the United States of America,” he said.