US President Barack Obama welcomed Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the White House on Thursday to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and nuclear security high on the agenda.
After tensions between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan raised, Obama urged Pakistan to avoid developments in its nuclear weapons program that could invite increased risk and instability to nuclear security.
The US has been worried about Pakistan’s development of new nuclear weapon systems, including small tactical nuclear weapons after heightened tensions between Pakistan and India and trying to persuade Pakistan to declare “restraint”.
However, Pakistani officials said that Islamabad would not confirm to restrict its weapons program and state the necessity of small tactical nuclear weapons in Pakistan to avert any sudden attack by India.
"Obama stressed the importance of avoiding any developments that might invite increased risk to nuclear safety, security, or strategic stability," referring to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, a White House statement said.
Pakistani officials said the US demanded unreasonable restrictions on its nuclear weapons, just promising to consider Pakistan as a recognized recipient of nuclear technology in return.
Both leaders agreed in the meeting that “all sides” should act with restraint and work toward strategic stability in South Asia.
Sharif’s visit to the Oval office, first in two years, came a week after Obama reversed his pledge to pull US troops in Afghanistan before he left office. Obama said at least 5,500 troops would be in Afghanistan till 2017 to stabilize peace environment.
In the meeting with Sharif, Obama also called for help to get the Afghan Taliban back to peace talks, which is critical to his hesitant plan to pull US troops back from Afghanistan.
According to a White House statement released after the meeting, Obama thanks Sharif for Pakistan’s contributions for negotiations and said “Afghan-led” reconciliation process was "the only way to bring lasting stability and peace to Afghanistan and the region."
US officials believed that Pakistan had been supporting groups linked to Afghan Taliban, but the White House said on Thursday that Pakistan had “significant impact” on crackdown.
In July, Pakistan held meetings with Afghan officials and the Taliban. Obama and Sharif emphasise their commitment to the Afghan peace process and urged Taliban leaders to enter direct talks with Kabul. After July talks, a second round of the meeting was postponed because Afghan intelligence agency declared that Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had died in a hospital in Pakistan two years ago.
"It's a setback, no doubt, and it will take some time to overcome this setback, but we will try again," Sharif told reporters after the meeting.
Obama also expressed his concerns about Americans held hostage by militants in Pakistan and welcomed Sharif’s offer to help in ensuring their safe return, referring to an American couple kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2012.
"For their safety and security, we are not going to offer specific details beyond the fact that we are aware of a small number of American hostages in this region," a senior administration official said without giving further details.
The two leaders also discussed about clean energy and education. The two leaders said they would cooperate on new efforts to help Pakistan to double its electricity over 15 years, including $250 million loan guarantee for transmission and distribution. They also promised to cooperate on an initiative for girls education, in which the US Agency for International Development will spend $70 million to provide schooling for 200,000 Pakistani girls.
The relationship between the US and Pakistan has been rocky over the years due to the US concerns about the growth of Pakistan’s secretive nuclear arsenal.
A new report released on Thursday shows that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons stockpile has increased to between 110 and 130 from 90 to 110 in 2011. The analysts Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris said that it would possible expand further to 220 to 250 in the next 10 years, making Pakistan the world’s fifth largest nuclear weapons state behind the US, Russia, China and France.
"The Pakistan-America relations stand over 70 years, and it is my endeavor to further strengthen and solidify this relationship," Sharif said.
"I look forward to a very constructive engagement with you [Obama] today to add greater substance and depth to our relationship."
Obama repeated Sharif’s remarks saying that the US-Pakistan relationship is important in the political climate in the Middle East and South Asia.
"We have an extraordinary Pakistani-American community that is helping to build this country," Obama said.
"Those people-to-people ties are part of what makes this relationship so special."
The leaders adjourned the meeting saying that they would work and cooperate on all host of issues, not just on security matters but also on economic, scientific and educational affairs.
Obama said, "We are looking forward to using this meeting as an opportunity to further deepen the relationship between the United States and Pakistan."
Sharif will leave Washington on Friday.