WASHINGTON, Oct. 22 (UPI) — President Barack Obama welcomed Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to the White House on Thursday, amid reports that U.S. officials are trying to work out a deal to limit the South Asian nation’s nuclear weapons arsenal.
Sharif, who has served as Pakistan’s leader for more than two years, had been scheduled to visit the White House for weeks.
The two leaders discussed multiple topics Thursday — including economic, security and educational issues, the White House said.
“The Pakistan-America relations stand over 70 years, and it is my endeavor to further strengthen and solidify this relationship,” Sharif said. “I look forward to a very constructive engagement with you today to add greater substance and depth to our relationship.”
Obama echoed Sharif’s remarks, saying the U.S. relationship with Pakistan is important in the political climate in the Middle East and South Asia.
“We have an extraordinary Pakistani-American community that is helping to build this country,” Obama said. “Those people-to-people ties are part of what makes this relationship so special.”
The leaders’ meeting came amid news reports that indicate the Obama administration is seeking a deal to limit Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal — similar in goal to the accord struck with Iran in July.
Last week, White House spokesman Josh Earnest acknowledged the discussions about a potential deal — which are reportedly motivated by U.S. concerns that small tactical nuclear weapons from Pakistan’s arsenal could fall into the wrong hands.
“President Obama and Prime Minister Sharif discussed the continuing threat of nuclear terrorism,” the White House said. “The United States and Pakistan committed to work together to make the Nuclear Security Summit hosted by President Obama next year a success. President Obama welcomed Pakistan’s constructive engagement with the Nuclear Security Summit process and its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other international forums.”
“There has been a lot of public speculation about this,” Earnest at a press briefing Oct. 15. “At this point, the United States has been engaged with Pakistan, as well as the rest of the international community, on issues related to nuclear safety and security.”
“We work and cooperate on a whole host of issues — not just on security matters, but also on economic and scientific and educational affairs,” Obama said. “And we are looking forward to using this meeting as an opportunity to further deepen the relationship between the United States and Pakistan.”
Sharif is scheduled to depart Washington Friday.