U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Pakistani leaders Monday that if they do not resolve protests halting NATO shipments from Afghanistan, it could be difficult to maintain political support in Washington for an ongoing aid program to Pakistan.
The warning came as Hagel made the first visit to Pakistan by a Pentagon chief in nearly four years. It came at a time when U.S.-led international forces are reducing their presence in neighboring Afghanistan.
Hagel met with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the country's new military chief, General Raheel Sharif.
According to the Pentagon, the talks provided what it said was "an opportunity to advance a broad, robust, and continuous United States-Pakistan dialogue on topics of shared concern, including security and stability in the region."
The Pakistan prime minister's office said in a statement that Mr. Sharif conveyed Pakistan's "deep concern" over continuing U.S. drone strikes and stressed that they are counterproductive to his government's anti-terrorism efforts.
The U.S. armed drones are mainly targeting suspected militants in Pakistan's semi-autonomous North Waziristan tribal region where fugitive insurgents linked to the Haqqani network have established sanctuaries.
The opposition party of former cricket star Imran Khan is leading anti-drone protests. Activists have blocked the supply route in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and have vowed to do so until the U.S. drones are stopped.
The U.S. last week halted the shipments due to what it called "security concerns." Mr. Sharif's government, however, is opposed to forcefully interrupting NATO cargo through Pakistan. It has cautioned protesters the move could lead to the country's international isolation.
On Monday, Pakistani officials said Hagel received assurances from the Pakistanis that they would take "immediate action" to resolve the shipment problem. The officials did not provide details on how that might be done.