President Obama met for the first time Wednesday with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for a wide-ranging discussion of the economy, security Afghanistan and Pakistan's relationship with India.
"We agreed that we need to continue to find constructive ways to partner together, ways that respect Pakistan's sovereignty, that respect the concerns of both countries," Mr. Obama said following their meeting. "We are committed to working together and making sure that rather than this being a source of tension between our two countries that it can be a source of us strength for us working together in a constructive and a respectful way."
Sharif, for his part, said he raised the topic of drone strikes with Mr. Obama and "emphasized the need for an end to such strikes." The targeted attacks, which have resulted in civilian deaths in the region, are a source of tension between the two countries. Mr. Obama did not directly reference drones, referring more broadly to a desire to reduce terrorism. He also spoke of encouraging economic partnerships, working with Pakistan as the U.S. transitions away from a combat role in Afghanistan, and praised Sharif for seeking to reduce tensions with India.
"I very much appreciate all the work that Prime Minister Sharif has already done. He has great challenges ahead of him but he is somebody who I think understands where Pakistan needs to go and we want to be fully supportive of continued success and continued democracy inside of Pakistan," Mr. Obama said.
The U.S.-Pakistan relationship has been fraught since the U.S. carried out a secret raid within Pakistan's borders to kill former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011. In November, a NATO airstrike near the Afghan border, further inflaming tensions between the two countries. In response, the Pakistani government n, complicating the U.S. war effort there, and did not reopen them until the U.S. formally apologized for the airstrikes in 2012.
While that offered a slight improvement in diplomatic relations, tensions have continued over U.S. drone strikes in the region. In a speech earlier this year at the National Defense University, Mr. Obama argued that drone strikes were the best way to carry out targeted operations and limit civilian casualties.
Two human rights watch organizations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, conducted reports on the civilian casualties as a result of drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen and have concluded that the U.S. has violated international law by killing civilians in both countries.
"The USA's promise to increase transparency around drone strikes, underscored by a major policy speech by President Barack Obama in May 2013, has yet to become a reality, and the USA still refuses to divulge even basic factual and legal information," the Amnesty International report summary said. "This secrecy has enabled the USA to act with impunity and block victims from receiving justice or compensation. As far as Amnesty International is aware, no US official has ever been held to account for unlawful killings by drones in Pakistan."
But the U.S. is standing by its drone program. "U.S. counterterrorism operations are precise, they are lawful, and they are effective, and the United States does not take lethal strikes when we or our partners have the ability to capture individual terrorists. Our preference is always to detain, interrogate and prosecute," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a briefing on Tuesday.
This was the first in-person meeting between Mr. Obama and Sharif, though the two have spoken on the phone. Kerryn in July, the first time a U.S. secretary of state went to the country since 2011.
On Saturday, just ahead of Sharif's visit, the U.S. announced it would resume more than $1.6 billion in economic and military aid to Pakistan that was suspended after tensions between the two countries deepened in 2011.