Press Briefing by Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes on President Obama's Bilateral Meeting with Prime Minister Gilani of Pakistan
Via Conference Call
6:15 P.M. KST
MR. RHODES: Hi, everybody. Thanks for getting on this call. I just wanted to read out the President’s meeting with Prime Minister Gilani. This meeting (inaudible) to discuss the importance that they place on nuclear security and the need to maintain vigilance against the threat of nuclear terrorism. The two leaders discussed the importance of ensuring a stable, sovereign Afghanistan, including working together in earnest to support an Afghan-led reconciliation process. In that vein, the President welcomed Prime Minister Gilani’s recent statement encouraging all Taliban to join the political process.
With the Pakistani parliamentary review nearing completion, the President made clear his view that the United States and Pakistan must move forward on important shared interests, including counterterrorism and fostering a stable Afghanistan. The President underscored that he values a relationship between our two countries based on mutual interest, trust and respect for Pakistani sovereignty. And again, in that vein, as he said in his opening comments to the press, the President very much welcomes the review that the parliament is conducting and the efforts that that Pakistan civilian government is undertaking to address the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.
The President and Prime Minister also agreed that as cooperation on our shared interest increases, the United States would welcome the potential participation of Pakistan in the ISAF summit in Chicago in May.
And with that, operator, I’d be happy to take questions.
Q Just wondering, given the heightened tensions as of late, to what extent was that addressed? And did you feel as though there was any progress made on that front? Did you feel as though President Obama and the Prime Minister felt more unified coming out of this meeting? Thank you.
MR. RHODES: Thanks, Kristen. I would say that the two leaders did address the recent tensions between our two countries, and in fact, the parliamentary review that Pakistan is undertaking I think follows in the wake of those tensions.
But I think that this was a meeting that made important progress in both sides being able to hear directly from one another about what their views are of the various interests on which we cooperate. And I think that the President came away from the meeting with a clear understanding of the process that’s underway in Pakistan to review aspects of the relationship between our two countries. And again, he’s very respectful of that process, which is underway.
And similarly, President Obama was able to communicate clearly the views of the United States, which includes the core national interest that we have, of course, in continuing our efforts against al Qaeda and the region, but also includes a significant commitment to a relationship between the United States and Pakistan that can serve both of our interests, because after all, these same terrorists have killed many Pakistanis, thousands of Pakistanis over the course of the last several years. And Pakistani cooperation has helped us make progress against al Qaeda.
Similarly, they were able to discuss, beyond the security issues, the broader relationship we can build where we have the type of trade and investment relationship that serves both countries.
So I think it made progress in advancing a dialogue, getting a better understanding of one another’s position, and working through the tensions that have been a part of the relationship in recent months.
Another question is there is another one.
Q Yes, I’m wondering to what extent, Ben, did the drone issue figure in the talks, and did they make any progress on that, on whether there will be any advance notification in any way to Pakistan when drone missions are undertaken? And just how would you describe the tone between the two of them?
MR. RHODES: Well, on the second part, I think the tone was one of mutual respect and a sincere interest in gaining a better understanding of each other’s respective positions, and trying to determine the best way in which the United States and Pakistan can work through the types of issues that are being discussed in the Pakistani parliament, and again, that represent the interest of both countries.
In terms of counterterrorism, without getting into any specific programs or operations, what I would say is that we discussed ways in which we can ensure that we have an ongoing dialogue at all levels of our government -- civilian and others
-- to discuss how we can better cooperate to again (inaudible) that we have in al Qaeda. And the President (inaudible) he believes that both the United States and Pakistan have --
Q I think we lost you.
OPERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, please stand by for a moment while we reconnect the speaker, Mr. Rhodes.
MR. RHODES: Sorry about that. The call dropped. But I was just going to conclude by saying that on counterterrorism, they agreed that there needed to be, again, ongoing consultations across our governments about the best way to cooperate going forward against the shared enemy that we have in al Qaeda. Again, the President expressed the significant, core interest that the United States has in defeating al Qaeda, which is shared by Pakistan.
But again, we want to make sure that our cooperation is able to sustain the support that will help it succeed in both of our countries. And again, we look forward to working with Pakistan as they complete their parliamentary review and discussing the ideas that come out of that review as we continue to ensure that we are cooperating in the best way possible with regard to our efforts against al Qaeda.
We’ll take another question.
Q Thanks for doing the call. I just was curious whether the Prime Minister brought up any concerns at all about some of these recent issues going on in Afghanistan regarding the U.S. troops there, both from the accidental burning of the Koran and the killings of the civilians by the one soldier. I didn’t know if he brought that up at all or had any concerns about sort of the U.S. presence there, and if whether things were devolving in any way.
MR. RHODES: Thanks for the question. They did talk about Afghanistan and did not focus on those particular incidents, though. They focused on reconciliation. And Prime Minister Gilani recently made a very positive statement about the need to pursue reconciliation and encouraging Taliban to join the political process going forward.
I think in their comments today they focused on the need to continue the dialogue between the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan about finding ways to support an Afghan-led reconciliation process. I think the President made it clear that he believes that it’s important for Pakistan to continue to be a part of that discussion and to continue to work to support an Afghan-led reconciliation process. And Prime Minister Gillani very much committed himself and his government to supporting those efforts going forward as well.
So it focused more on the political component and the reconciliation process. And again, they shared I think a consensus that Pakistan has a constructive role to play in that process going forward. And so those are the primary nature of the Afghanistan discussions.
I think the President also was able to express, as we look forward and transition to the Afghans and reduce our troop presence in Afghanistan, ultimately shift into a support role, he wants to have a discussion that includes Afghanistan, Pakistan as well, as we determine the best way to ensure that the region is secure, stable, and moving forward. So those are the nature of the discussions that they had today.
I think we have time for another question.
Q Hey, guys. Sorry about the other one. Thanks for doing the call. The civil nuclear agreement -- did the Pakistani Prime Minister mention a civil nuclear agreement in this meeting, and did the President have any reaction to that?
MR. RHODES: No, they actually did not get into that subject. The meeting really focused on the parliamentary review, counterterrorism, Afghanistan, some -- they touched some on the potential to deepen economic cooperation. So I think really other than reiterating I think the commitment to nuclear security and the shared effort to the Nuclear Security Summit, there wasn’t a discussion of additional civilian nuclear cooperation.
Of course, the United States is currently engaged in a partnership with Pakistan to address its urgent energy needs in ways that do not involve necessarily civil nuclear cooperation. And so separate from the discussion about -- separate from the discussion about civil nuclear, the President did express his continued commitment to helping Pakistan as it addresses a very significant energy challenge.
I think that we are running for the motorcade here now, so I’ll probably have to wrap there. But thanks, everybody, for jumping on the call.
6:28 P.M. KST