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.”
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.
“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.