Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said Wednesday he had urged President Barack Obama to end drone strikes in Pakistan, touching on a sore subject in relations between the two countries.
Speaking alongside Obama at a news conference in the Oval Office, Sharif said that during their two-hour meeting he had emphasized "the need for an end to such strikes." In the news conference Obama made no mention of drones, which have stoked widespread resentment in Pakistan, where many believe targeted strikes by the unmanned aircraft kill large numbers of civilians.
Still, the fact that Obama and Sharif met was widely seen as a sign of possible progress toward improving relations. Tensions between the two countries peaked in 2011 following the U.S. raid inside Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden and the accidental killing of two dozen Pakistani troops in a U.S. airstrike along the Afghan border that same year.
Relations have since warmed slightly. Pakistan, which closed off some U.S. supply lines out of Afghanistan in retaliation for the deaths of its troops, reopened the routes last year. Also, ahead of Sharif's visit, the U.S. decided to release more than $1.6 billion in military and economic aid to Pakistan that was suspended in 2011.
Obama acknowledged that there will always be some tension between the two countries.
"It's a challenge. It's not easy," he said. "We committed to working together and making sure that rather than this being a source of tension between our two countries, it can be a source of strength."
Obama said other regional issues were also on the agenda.
Pakistan's conflict with India over the disputed region of Kashmir was a central topic of the talks. Hours before Obama and Sharif met, India accused Pakistani troops of firing guns and mortars toward at least 50 Indian border posts overnight in Kashmir, and Indian troops returned fire. An Indian guard was killed and six were injured by a shell fired at the Arnia post in the Jammu region, officials said.
Plans for winding down the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan were also discussed.
Both leaders agreed on the need for a stable and secure Afghanistan after combat missions formally conclude there at the end of next year. The U.S. and Afghanistan are negotiating an agreement to keep some American troops in the country after 2014, but one unresolved issue — which is a potential deal breaker for the U.S. — is whether American military courts maintain legal jurisdiction over the troops.
Washington has warmly welcomed Sharif, who arrived on Sunday for his first visit to the U.S. capital since taking office in June. He dined with Secretary of State John Kerry and other top U.S. officials, and was hosted at a breakfast meeting Wednesday at Vice President Joe Biden's residence. Sharif's wife was the guest of honor at a tea and poetry reception hosted by first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, the vice president's wife.
A military honor guard lined the driveway leading to the West Wing of the White House as Sharif arrived for his meeting with Obama.
The two leaders talked on the phone earlier this year, but they had never met in person. Sharif, who served two earlier stints as Pakistan's prime minister, was scheduled to meet with other top U.S. officials while in Washington this week.