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Differences on nuclear issue surface at US strategic talks

Updated March 01, 2016
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz participate in the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue meeting at the State Department in Washington. ─AP
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz participate in the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue meeting at the State Department in Washington. ─AP

WASHINGTON: Foreign Affairs Adviser Sartaj Aziz urged the United States on Monday to show a greater understanding of Pakistan’s security concerns as US Sec­retary of State John Kerry asked Islamabad to consider reducing its nuclear arsenal.

The two top diplomats made these remarks at the inaugural session of the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, which both sides used also to vent their concerns on pressing issues instead of confining themselves to traditional bonhomie exchanged at such occasions.

“Nuclear safety is of obvious concern to both our countries, and I expect that we will continue to discuss the obligations of being a responsible state with nuclear weapons in the coming year,” Mr Kerry said.

He recalled that the US and Russia once had more than 50,000 atomic warheads each but they reduced those to 1,500 each and were working on further reductions.

“I think it’s important for Pakistan to really process that reality and put that front and centre in its policy. And we look forward to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s participation in the Nuclear Security Summit next month,” he said.

Pakistan argues that it will not accept any unilateral curb on its nuclear programme and that any reduction should apply to India as well and the US should also consider Pakistan’s concerns on the growing weapon disparity.

Mr Aziz, while responding to Secretary Kerry’s remarks, also referred to Pakistan’s position on this issue.

“Our engagement on non-proliferation and strategic stability will continue and Pakistan hopes to see greater US understanding of Pakistan’s security concerns and its desire to contribute actively as a mainstream nuclear power,” Mr Aziz said.

He also talked about a contentious sale of F-16 fighter jets, thanking the US for endor­sing its position that the planes would stren­gthen its ability to mount counter-terrorist operations and promote regional stability.

“We appreciate the public assessment of the US leadership in response to congressmen’s enquiries that Pakistan uses the F-16s effectively against the terrorists in the region,” he said. “The prospective sale of F-16s will strengthen Pakistan’s capabilities to successfully continue these vital operations for our mutual benefit and stability in the region.”

Mr Aziz urged the Obama administration to do more “to bring Congress fully in the picture about the positive steps taken by Pakistan to further our mutual interests and the very significant change in ground realities that has taken place in the past two-and-a-half years”.

Mr Kerry commended Pakistan’s counter-terrorism operations. “Groups like the Haqqani network or Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, all of these groups are literally stealing sovereignty of the nation. And they are stealing the future of the nation. It is important for us to stand up to them.”

“We welcome Pakistan’s commitment not to differentiate between terrorist groups... Groups like the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba seek to undermine Pakistan’s efforts to foster strong, positive relationship with its neighbours,” he said.

Instead of asking Pakistan to do more, Sec­retary Kerry said: “We recognise that every country can do more to intensify, to destroy and defeat violent radical extremists.”

Mr Aziz noted: “Regrettably there is tendency to blame Pakistan in a simplistic fashion for most of these challenges. We are blamed to be pursuing a duplicitous policy.”

He said that nothing could be “farther from truth than to hold Pakistan responsible for the Afghan imbroglio”.

“Who would like to set one’s neighbour on fire with the hope to save one’s own backyard?” he asked.

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2016