PM Nawaz Sharif to hold wide-ranging talks with Obama

WASHINGTON, (PNA/APP) — Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif will hold talks with President Barack Obama next week on wide-ranging issues during the first bilateral visit by a Pakistani leader to Washington in almost five years.

In addition to discussing ways to strengthen bilateral trade and economic cooperation, the two sides will avail the opportunity to deliberate on regional peace and security issues as the White House looks forward to listening to the views of the new Pakistani government.

The October 23 meeting at the White House takes place as Washington and Islamabad expect a new phase in their relationship, when the U.S. forces draw down from neighboring Afghanistan after more than 12 years of war on Pakistan’s western border.

During the visit, Prime Minister Sharif will also interact with key senior U.S. Administration officials including Secretary of State John Kerry as well as Congressional leaders on the Capitol Hill.

“Though the Secretary is traveling early next week, he will also be meeting with Prime Minister Sharif and his delegation on Sunday prior to his departure,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Friday, signifying importance Washington attaches to discussions with the Pakistani leadership.

Over much of the past decade since 9/11, Afghan war-related security issues overshadowed the broad range of cooperative ties between Pakistan and the United States but U.S. Special Envoy James Dobbins recently underscored the importance of re-focusing on tremendous potential of the U.S.-Pakistan bilateral relationship, independent of the Afghan war, which officially ends by 2014.

“The impending coalition exit from Afghanistan is a short-term issue. A stable and prosperous Pakistan is what will matter most for the long run,” Shuja Nawaz, who heads the South Asian Center at Washington’s Atlantic Council, wrote in the Foreign Policy magazine on the eve of the visit.

Prime Minister Sharif is expected to call for expansion in trade and economic areas and making such cooperation the defining foundation for an enduring relationship in view of the repeated ups and downs in the ties in the past decades.

According to Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, who was in Washington last week for World Bank-IMF meetings, the prime minister believes in fostering long-term relations on the basis of aid, and not aid.

Ahead of the visit, the United States has released an outstanding amount of US$ 322 million as reimbursement from the Coalition Support Funds.

Pakistan-India relations may also figure during the meeting. Prime Minister Sharif is also expected to express Pakistan’s views in the regional security perspective, particularly in view of 2014 Afghan transition and implications of the developments in the neighboring country for Pakistan.