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Obama Admin. Serious About "Af-Pak" Issues

Background and analysis by CBS News State Department reporter Charles Wolfson.

Leave it to the basketball fan-in-chief to mount a full court diplomatic press against a mounting set of problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This week President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave full attention and then some to getting a handle on what are now known as "Af-Pak" issues. They, along with their Special Envoy, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, headed up a slew of administration officials who played host to Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai.

In some ways, it was as much a move to press the two visiting leaders to act as it was an effort to coordinate policy and action against militants from Al-Qaeda and the Taliban who constitute a threat against the U.S. and the leaders of the two South Asian nations.

Clinton recently convened a three-way meeting at the State Department, but this week's program was much more intense and at the highest levels. Not only did Mr. Obama meet separately with each leader in the Oval Office, he also met with them together. The message: let there be no misunderstandings leaving Washington. Each of the participants has work to do, each knows what is expected of the other and much of the task at hand needs to be coordinated.

Washington and others in the international community will handle the coordinating and keep on top of the daily effort to make certain Pakistan takes the militants' threats as seriously as the Obama administration does. Holbrooke will monitor that but he'll have help from General David Petraeus on security issues and from other senior officials like Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, CIA Director Leon Panetta and FBI Director Robert Muller on issues related to other aspects of bolstering the two governments.

One area which will get more attention from this administration than it did in the previous one is an emphasis on agricultural reform. Washington may finally be getting serious about finding a way to get Afghan farmers out of the very profitable business of growing opium poppy, which ends up being the source of 90 percent of the world's heroin. Hundreds and hundreds of millions have already been spent - some say wasted - trying to achieve this goal, to little or no avail.

Now, Clinton's remarks on Afghanistan are peppered with references to the country's successful past as a productive, agriculturally oriented economy which once grew fruit trees, nuts and other commodities. American agricultural experts will be sent to Afghan provinces to give farmers alternative crop choices. It's not that similar ideas haven't been tried before. Perhaps this time there will be enough staying power and resources behind what is clearly a long term solution to overcome the Taliban and local drug lords' influence over Afghan farmers.

While they were in Washington Karzai and Zardari not only got an earful from Mr. Obama but they also heard from the people who hold the purse strings. Each had meetings with the most powerful members of Congress, many of whom are skeptical when it comes to statements about what the two leaders are willing to do when they get back home. More aid may be voted for the administration's efforts now but it is clear there is not an endless supply of cash if expectations are not met.

It should be noted the messages didn't flow in one direction only. Karzai was not at all shy about opposing attacks from U.S. drones on targets in his country which have resulted in many civilian casualties. As a politician running for reelection, the Afghan leader made his complaints known in public and behind closed doors and both Obama and Clinton acknowledged their regret over the loss of innocent lives.

Washington has put a high priority on these two countries because it has no other choice. The Taliban and al Qaeda operate with far too much impunity from safe havens in the border provinces of Pakistan and even Islamabad now sees that a deal it struck with the Taliban was worthless. But there is more to this problem than the normal activities of militants. Because Pakistan has nuclear weapons it is an imperative that Washington goes the extra mile - and more - to make sure Zardari's government can protect its nuclear stockpile from falling into the wrong hands.

However you label the meetings this week - high level diplomatic consultations, strategy negotiations or old-fashioned head knocking - the administration has made a high profile roll of the dice to get Zardari and Karzai on board with a plan to do whatever it takes to get rid of those who threaten stability not only in their own backyards but beyond.