Nuclear deal not on Sharif’s agenda

Ahead of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s three-day tour of the United States, both countries ruled out the possibility of a nuclear deal between them, but Pakistan went a step further to emphasise that they were not even discussing any such deal. Mr. Sharif arrives in the U.S. on Tuesday.

“No "deal" is being discussed between the two countries. Nor has the U.S. made any demand on Pakistan,” Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said in Islamabad on Monday, which appeared to be not in accord with the White House view on the issue. A White House spokesman said a deal would “not come to fruition” during the visit, but nuclear security remained a topic of conversation between the two countries.

“About the sort of reports that the United States and Pakistan were planning a [civil nuclear deal]…. I would significantly reduce your expectations about that occurring on Thursday," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. Mr Sharif and Mr Obama will meet on Thursday.

Mr. Earnest had said last week that the U.S. and Pakistan were “regularly engaged in a dialogue about the importance of nuclear security,” and the topic would figure in conversations between the leaders.

The idea of a U.S.-Pakistan civil nuclear deal, which will allow Pakistan access to civilian nuclear technology and material in a regulated manner in exchange of more transparency and restriction in its nuclear pogramme, has been around for a while. A recent newspaper article said such a deal was under discussion, drawing strong opposition from India, which reminded the U.S. of Pakistan’s bad non-proliferation track record.

Incidentally, in 2008, the then External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee had welcomed such a deal. After the conclusion of the Indo-U.S. 123 Agreement, he had told a press conference in Washington: “In respect of civil nuclear cooperation between Pakistan and the U.S., we would like to encourage civil nuclear cooperation — its full use of nuclear energy — as we believe every country has its right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

Strategic affairs expert Stephen P Cohen feels India should support a deal with Pakistan and Pakistan must restrict its nuclear programme. "The question is what limits Pakistan agree to on its own programme, something to be negotiated with Pak. But with India as a participant in everyone's calculations, I would imagine that this is vital to India. The problem is that India and Pakistan seem to be guided by different theories of nuclear arms racing, but it is not in the interest of either to engage in an open-ended nuclear arms race. But "more is enough” seems to be the Pak philosophy,” he said.

While Pakistan has always sought a deal similar to the Indo-U.S. civil nuclear deal, recent reports that the Obama administration is negotiating a restriction of its nuclear programme has triggered a domestic reaction, forcing the government to harden its posturing. “History is a testimony to the fact that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accepts no demand from any state,” Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson said.

India to figure in talks

While the Obama administration has maintained a public posture that it would not interfere in India-Pakistan bilateral relations, Pakistan National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz said in Islamabad on Monday that the “stalled talks” with India would be part of the dialogue between Mr. Sharif and Mr. Obama. Last week he had said relations with India would be a core issue in the dialogue with the U.S. and Pakistan would urge the U.S. to not tilt the strategic balance in South Asia by favouring India.

However, the White House did not mention India on the agenda of talks with Pakistan. “We certainly have an important security relationship, and the security cooperation between our two countries is beneficial to the safety and security of the citizens in both our countries,” Mr. Earnest said, mentioning the situation in Afghanistan specifically.

Pakistan Prime Minister will also meet Chairman House Foreign Affairs Committee and interact with Pakistan-U.S. Business Council and U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He will deliver a public lecture at the United States Institute of Peace and address the Pakistani community.

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Printable version | May 17, 2021 6:24:31 PM |

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