ISLAMABAD - Pakistan’s prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, will pay a three-day official visit to the United States starting October 20 to discuss bilateral ties with President Barack Obama.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qazi Khalilullah told a weekly news conference in Islamabad Thursday that Sharif will brief the U.S. president on Pakistan’s fight against terrorism and its regional peace efforts.
The two sides will discuss bilateral cooperation on the economy, trade, education, health, defense, counterterrorism and climate change, Khalilullah said.
Pakistan’s efforts to promote peace in Afghanistan and concerns about Islamabad’s nuclear program, which critics believe to be the world’s fastest growing arsenal, are likely to dominate Prime Minister Sharif’s talks at the White House.
The visit will come one week after President Obama announced on Thursday he will maintain the current number of American troops in Afghanistan and reiterated Washington's support for an Afghan-led reconciliation process to achieve lasting peace in the strife-torn nation.
Without naming Pakistan, Obama said that sanctuaries for the Taliban and other terrorists must end.
"Next week, I will host Prime Minister Sharif of Pakistan, and I will continue to urge all parties in the region to press the Taliban to return to peace talks and to do their part in pursuit of the peace that Afghans deserve," Obama said.
The New York Times reported Thursday that the Obama administration is exploring a deal with Pakistan that would limit the scope of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal. The newspaper reports that talks are underway in advance of Sharif’s arrival in Washington next week.
In turn, Islamabad would be offered a waiver for entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the group of countries that regulates the export of nuclear technology.
However, in background interviews, Pakistani officials insist that their program is specific to their rival, India and unless the international community helps put in place a conflict resolution mechanism between Islamabad and New Delhi, they will not accept any curbs on the country's nuclear development program.
Pakistan mediated and hosted a preliminary round of talks between the Afghan government and Taliban officials in early July where Chinese and American officials were also present as observers.
However, a second round was postponed indefinitely after it was revealed in late July that Taliban fugitive supreme leader, Mullah Omar, had died two years ago.
Sharif announced last week that his government is again making efforts to revive the Afghan peace talks and his adviser on national security and foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, told reporters earlier this week that the stalled peace dialogue may resume in coming weeks with the onset of winter when fighting largely subsides in Afghanistan.
Spokesman Khalilullah said Thursday Pakistan is ready to host another round of Afghan talks provided both sides agreed.
“We support peace and security in Afghanistan because that is also in the vital interest of Pakistan," he said. "We hosted the first round and we always remain ready to host another round if the Afghan government wants that. We firmly believe that this is the way forward, this is the way to bring peace in Afghanistan.”
Taliban commanders and fighters are allegedly using Pakistani soil for insurgent activities in Afghanistan, insist Afghan leaders and demand Islamabad end that support. Khalilullah again rejected those charges.
“We have said a number of times that Afghan allegations implicating Pakistan are unfounded. I reiterate that non-interference in internal affairs of Afghanistan is the key pillar of our Afghan police and we are fully committed to not allow our territory to be used against any other country including Afghanistan.”