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No nuclear deal for Pakistan: US

By Aziz Haniffa
October 23, 2015 11:24 IST
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But the US will sell F-16 aircraft to Pakistan to fight 'terrorists.' Aziz Haniffa/ reports from Washington, DC.

US President Barack Obama and Pakistan Prime Minister nawaz Sharif at the White House, October 22, 2015.A senior Obama administration official, who was in on the summit between President Barack Obama and Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the White House on Thursday, October 22, has strongly refuted the swirling rumours on an India-type civilain nuclear agreement with Pakistan that Islamabad has been imploring Washingto to enter into.

But the official did not deny the sale of sophisticated F-16 aircraft -- that has in the past been used against India although it was provided only to be used against terrorists -- is on the anvil.

In a teleconference with Indian journalists, the official, reacting to reports in the US media, preceding Sharif's arrival that a US-Pakistan civilian nuclear deal similar to the 123 Agreement with India 10 years ago was imminent, asserted, "There is no such thing as a nuclear deal."

"What's been reported in the media is some sort of a civilian nuclear package alleged to be something like the US concluded with India 10 years ago," he noted, and added, "Let me just assure you categorically that the press allegations of a 123 Agreement with Pakistan are completely false."

"Pakistan has made clear its interest in civilian nuclear cooperation," the official acknowledged, "and has called it a socio-economic imperative because of its energy shortfalls."

"But again, let me state categorically, we have not entered into negotiations on a 123 Agreement with Pakistan nor are we seeking an exception for Pakistan within the Nuclear Suppliers Group in order to facilitate civil nuclear exports," the official added.

When questioned on The New York Times report that the White House is pushing for a defence deal to sell F-16s to Pakistan -- although pointing out that the administration has not notified Congress about such a sale -- the official defended it as part of a "long-standing security cooperation with Pakistan."

"It is in each of our interests and we think it's in the region's interest as well," he added. "Pakistan has taken very determined action for the last several years against militants operating on its territory."

"These are militants and terrorists that not only threaten Pakistan, but they also threaten other countries in the region and they threaten our interests as well, as we recall all too painfully the 9/11 attacks," he said.

"The US has sold F-16s to Pakistan in the past, and I can assure you that Pakistan uses these very actively in its military operations against militants and terrorist groups operating in Western Pakistan."

"This is something the Pakistani government briefs us on," he explained, "and so we are very pleased that these aircraft that were supplied by the United States government and the United States can be so effective in countering militants."

"I can confirm we have not notified Congress of any new sale," he added.

At the outset, asked if the US was also part of a mechanism Sharif had spoken of earlier at a press conference to monitor ceasefire violations across the Line of Control, the official said, "The United States interlocutors, particularly President Obama and other interlocutors, discussed with the prime minister and his team the situation on the LoC."

"Pakistan has often made requests for the United States to be engaged in this," he said, but made clear that "President Obama reaffirmed the US commitment that we would be engaged only if this is something that India and Pakistan would want."

"So, I want to highlight that this is not any change in this policy," the official added. "This has been reiterated of the continuing policy of the United States for both countries to work out issues bilaterally."

However, the official acknowledged, "Of course, we and other countries would be willing to provide facilitating or other supporting role if India and Pakistan together asked for it."

Asked about the three dossiers handed over to the State Department by Pakistan alleging Indian complicity in fomenting the insurgency and conflict in Balochistan, FATA and Karachi, the official acknowledged that Sharif had indeed shared this material in his meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday, Octobrr 21.

But, he noted, "As we have said for quite some time and as Secretary Kerry underscored yesterday, the best way to resolve issues is through dialogue between the two neighbours, and we stand, as I said, ready to support such a dialogue in any way we can."

"We just received these dossiers. We have not been able to review them and have no comment on their content at this point."

The official denied that the US was tilting toward India at Pakistan's expense, arguing that "I don't think the US tilts towards any country. The United States has very important relations with India and Pakistan -- they stand on their own."

"They are not zero-sum. The United States has interest in the peace and stability of the region, which I think is something that President Obama indicated the United States is committed to with his decision last week to authorise our military forces to remain in Afghanistan -- to remain in the region beyond 2016."

When asked to explain why Washington had "encouraged sustained dialogue" between India and Pakistan, the official explained, "A dialogue between India and Pakistan is something the parameters of which India and Pakistan need to work out."

"It's not the policy of the United States to try to influence, or set terms or otherwise even make recommendations for how that dialogue should take place."

"This has been our policy for many years and that policy of the US government has not changed one bit. So, I won't speak to any conditions of that dialogue -- we just hope that India and Pakistan do have a dialogue, normalise relations and work together to promote the peace of the region and the prosperity of their respective countries."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
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