US skirts Pakistan's push for civilian nuclear deal | Asia Pacific

US skirts Pakistan's push for civilian nuclear deal

US skirts Pakistan's push for civilian nuclear deal

Posted 26 March 2010, 20:42 AEST

Pakistan and the US have discussed Islamabad's push for a civilian nuclear deal, but Washington has given no apparent undertakings, during talks this week in Washington aimed at putting ties on a better footing.

Leading a high powered delegation, Pakistan's foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi won high praise from the Obama administration for his country's costly efforts against the Taliban in the past year.

And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of partnership on a full range of matters, with the talks set to deliver promised US military equipment that's been held up for years, and other economic and social development co-operation.

Presenter: Linda Mottram

Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State; Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Pakistan's Foreign minister; Brian Katulis, senior fellow, Centre for American Progress

MOTTRAM: The atmosphere as Foreign minister Qureshi and Secretary of State Clinton fronted the media was warm, the two laughing and lauding their new bid to put the bilateral relationship on a track to overcoming years of mistrust, that is still embedded in the two nations populations. Secretary Clinton declared it a new day.

CLINTON: We have made it very clear that this strategic dialogue is in Pakistan's interest and in the United States' interest and that is why what we are doing here today is so critical.

MOTTRAM: Ahead of the talks, veteran U-S diplomat and Obama administration special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke said the talks were the beginning of a process, that the US was now listening to Pakistan, a position echoed by Hillary Clinton, who thanked the Foreign Minister for his candour and commitment to finding solutions.

CLINTON: This is a dialogue that flows in both directions. We recognise that our success will be measured in the results that our citizens see in their daily lives. This begins with security.

MOTTRAM: At the heart of this new chapter in US/Pakistan relations is Pakistan's decision to pursue militants in its midst, after years when some elements nurtured them. Foreign minister Qureshi noted the cost to Pakistan of it's decision to fight militancy, the cost in lives and to the country's economy. But the meeting signalled he said a move from a relationship to a partnership.

QURESHI: The people of Pakistan expected a different kind of an approach. The people of Pakistan expected a democracy to treat a democracy differently, and you've done so. And you've done so. And that is why I'm satisfied.

MOTTRAM: The talks did produce some key points of agreement, including that the U-S would fast track some long delayed military equipment transfers to Pakistan. Other concrete measures to be delivered under a sectoral dialogue process would be in economic development and trade, non-nuclear energy, defence and security, law enforcement and counter-terrorism. A reference in the final document to strategic stability and non-proliferation was being seen as a sign the issue of civilian nuclear co-operation was discussed.

And Foreign Minister Qureshi told Reuters the key obstacle hat of A. Q. Khan, the proliferating father of Pakistan's nuclear program was in the past.

QURESHI: I would say that the discussions that we had on issues of nuclear co-operation, issues of non-proliferation, restraints, you know export controls, I am quite satisfied with the discussions that we had.

MOTTRAM: But he wouldn't be drawn further on whether the US was willing to offer a co-operation deal. And Washington has skirted the issue in it's public statements. A new policy steering group though will reportedly have further talks. And elsewhere, Mr Qureshi said he hoped nondiscriminatory access to vital energy resources would be available to Pakistan.

Civilian nuclear co-operation is likely to be many years away for Pakistan. But Brian Katulis, senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress says the overarching aim of strengthening bilateral ties to build on the fight against the Taliban is now track.

KATULIS: Pakistan has arrested some top Taliban insurgents, we've gone on the offensive against those insurgents. Three times as many terror suspects have been killed under the Obama Administration compared to five years of the Bush Administration. So, there is a much more aggressive approach on the part of the US and Pakistan and what the talks in Washington are designed to do is to foster a stronger bilateral relationship, not only on security but on the economy and a wide range of issues.

MOTTRAM: The US and Pakistan intend this visit to be the start of regular bilateral talks. Officials hope the next round will be within six months in Pakistan though this meeting produced no certain date.

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