US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the United States will consider Pakistan’s request for civilian nuclear power plants and that the issue will also come up during the first ministerial-level strategic talks between the two countries on Wednesday. “I am sure that that’s going to be raised and we’re going to be considering it,” said Secretary Clinton when asked by a Pakistani television channel how would the US respond to a Pakistani request for recognising its nuclear programme. “I can’t prejudge 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. We are very committed to it.” In an interview to another Pakistani TV channel, Clinton further elaborated this point, saying that the two sides were going to discuss “many issues, including that one, which the Pakistani delegation wishes to raise.

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And we’re going to really go deep into all of these”. When pressed for a more categorical answer, she said: “I am absolutely convinced we have a long way to go. We can’t just wave that magic wand and say we’ve eliminated the trust deficit, we fully understand each other. This takes time, and we have to build it step by step. But I’m very committed to this process.” Reminded that the US had already signed a nuclear deal with India the secretary said: “That was the result of many, many years of strategic dialogue. It did not happen easily or quickly.” Level of trust The US and Pakistan, she said, were building the basis of “an open, transparent and frank” relationship. “That’s what countries that develop that level of trust and confidence can do with each other.” Although the secretary was non-committal, diplomatic observers in Washington noted that unlike previous occasions she did not outright reject the suggestion of providing nuclear power plants to Pakistan. The question also did not elicit the usual US response: “Pakistan has a different history than India.” The observers recalled that the US administration first indicated a change in its attitude towards Pakistan’s nuclear programme when President Barack Obama told Dawn in June: “I have confidence that the Pakistani government has safeguarded its nuclear arsenal.

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It’s Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.” Since then, the US administration is steadily moving towards assuaging Pakistan’s fears that Washington wanted to undo its nuclear programme or take over its weapons. Secretary Clinton, when reminded that Pakistan needed nuclear power plants to produce electricity, said there were other specific measures that the country could take to meet its energy needs. “And I think on the energy issue specifically, there are more immediate steps that can be taken that have to help with the grid, have to help with other sources of energy, to upgrade power plants and the like,” she said. “And we are certainly looking at those and we want to help Pakistan with its immediate and its long-term energy needs.” The top US diplomat assured the Pakistanis that her country was committed to further enhancing its relationship with Pakistan but doing so takes time. “It’s not the kind of commitment that you easily produce overnight or even within a year. But it is important to get started, to sort it out, and to develop the trust and the confidence between us,” she said. “And we will be moving forward. We’ll have our next session in the future in Islamabad.”

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This week’s talks in Washington, she noted, had a very broad agenda and “I think the fact that we have come to a point where we’re going to have a serious strategic dialogue at the highest level of government is quite a move”. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and other members of the Pakistani delegation spent a busy day on Capitol Hill. They had two, hour-long meetings with Senator John Kerry, Congressman Howard Berman and members of their committees that deal with foreign affairs. Later, Foreign Minister Qureshi told journalists that they urged US lawmakers to support some key Pakistan-related legislation that will come before Congress soon. Pakistan, he said, was particularly keen on the ROZ bill which sought to set up duty free export zones in the tribal belt. “Our talks were frank and candid,” said Qureshi. “We conveyed Pakistan’s plans and priorities and expressed our hope that the strategic dialogue will lead to a qualitative difference in the relationship between Pakistan and the US.”
By: Dawn News

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