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White House mum on advance warning of drone strikes in Pakistan

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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, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes would 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 ave the CIA’s drone campaign.

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

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

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

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About the Author

Susan Crabtree

Susan Crabtree is an award-winning investigative reporter with more than 15 years of reporting experience in Washington, D.C. Her reporting about bribery, corruption and conflict-of-interest issues on Capitol Hill has led to several FBI and ethics investigations, as well as consequences for members within their caucuses and at the ballot box. Susan can be reached at scrabtree@washingtontimes.com.

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