WASHINGTON: The US continued to back-pedal from President Joe Biden’s position on Pakistan’s nuclear programme as the State Department said on Tuesday that Washington sought a strong partnership with Pakistan to counter global and regional terrorism and also has confidence in its ability to defend its nuclear assets.

“Few countries suffer from terrorism like Pakistan and have a shared interest in combating threats to regional stability and security from groups like TTP,” spokesperson Vedant Patel said.

On Monday, the State Department had quashed speculations stirred by President Biden’s remarks when it clarified that the US was confident of Pakistan’s ability to keep its nuclear assets safe and secure.

Endorsing the confidence expressed by previous US admi­nistrations as well, State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said: “The United States is confident of Pakistan’s commitment and its ability to secure nuclear assets.”

The clarification followed a meeting between Ambassador Masood Khan and a senior aide to the US Secretary of State, Counsellor Derek Chollet. After the meeting, both sides expressed the desire to continue rebuilding their partnership.

In addition, a member of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations said on Tuesday that President Biden’s remarks were not deliberate, or the administration would not have clarified them on Monday.

Democratic senator from Maryland, Chris Van Hollen, said: “I was pleased to see the State Department issue a clarification, making it clear that the United States government has confidence in the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons systems”.

When asked how US lawmakers viewed this controversy, he dismissed media speculation about a change in the US policy towards Pakistan’s nuclear programme.

Asked if President Biden had just made off-the-cuff remarks or his statement indicated a policy change, he said: “I think it was off-the-cuff remarks. I’m speculating here, but that would be my reading, and that is why the State Department issued a clarification. Had it not been off-the-cuff, had it been deliberate, then you wouldn’t have seen this (clarification).”

“So, you do not see any policy change on Pakistan’s nuclear programme?” he was asked. “I do not,” the senator replied.

The meeting between Counsellor Chollet and Ambassador Khan took place shortly before the State Department issued its clarification and came days after the Pakistan Foreign Office summoned the US ambassador in Islamabad to protest over President Biden’s remarks.

Mr Chollet said in a tweet that he met Ambassador Khan “to discuss US-Pakistan long-standing partnership and (to) further grow our ties in so many areas including health, agriculture, education, entrepreneurship, energy and more for the benefit of our peoples and the region”.

The counselor’s tweet persuaded the Pakistan embassy to acknowledge the meeting in a press release that not only borrowed from Mr Chollet’s statement, but also included contents from the State Department’s news briefing.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2022

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