In the clearest sign yet from Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday said the U.S. would “consider” Pakistan's request for a civil nuclear deal as Islamabad sought atomic cooperation and military hardware to bring itself on par with India.

However, her remarks were tempered with the rider that the civil nuclear deal with India did not happen “easily or quickly” and was the result of “many, many” years of strategic dialogue.

The first ministerial-level U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue, scheduled to start on Wednesday in Washington, is aimed at sorting out different issues expected to be raised by Pakistan, including a possible demand for a civil nuclear deal, Ms. Clinton said in an interview with a Pakistani news channel.

Ahead of the crucial dialogue, Pakistan submitted a 56-page document to the Obama Administration, seeking among other things a civil nuclear deal and drone technology.

Notwithstanding India's reservations, Ms. Clinton made it clear that the issue of energy would be one of the subjects of discussion.

“I'm sure that that's going to be raised and we're going to be considering it but I can't pre-judge or pre-empt what the outcome of our discussions will be except to say that this strategic dialogue is at the highest level we've ever had between our two countries,” she said. In response to another query about the need for a civil nuclear deal to help Pakistan cope with an energy crisis and to address the Pakistan Army's concerns related to India, she said: “I can't speak for anyone else's impressions but that [the civil nuclear deal with India] was the result of many, many years of strategic dialogue. ”

Ms. Clinton added: “I think on the energy issue specifically there are more immediate steps that can be taken that have to help with [Pakistan's power] grid, other sources of energy, to upgrade power plants and the like. We are certainly looking at those and we want to help Pakistan with its immediate and long-term energy needs.”

The Pakistani delegation includes Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and the ISI's Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha. It is headed by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

In the 56-page document, Islamabad has also sought U.S. help in reviving the India-Pakistan dialogue stalled since the 26/11 attacks.

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