WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama will welcome Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif to the White House on October 23 to encourage his pledge to improve relations with Washington and India.
The announcement of Sharif's visit came from the White House as the premier met US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
“The president looks forward to discussions with Prime Minister Sharif on ways we can advance our shared interest of a stable, secure, and prosperous Pakistan,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.
“The visit will highlight the importance and resilience of the US-Pakistan relationship and provide an opportunity for us to strengthen cooperation on issues of mutual concern, such as energy, trade and economic development, regional stability, and countering violent extremism.”
The announcement of Sharif's visit came on the eve of a meeting between Obama and Indian Premier Manmohan Singh at the White House on Friday.
Singh and Sharif are expected to meet at the weekend at the UN General Assembly in an attempt to quell rising border tensions between the rivals.
After Kerry met Sharif, who was elected in May, a senior US official praised his effort to lower tensions in volatile South Asia.
“In the short intervening period (since Sharif's election) he's made it clear that he's committed to improving relations not only with his neighbors but also importantly with the United States,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The officials predicted a “full agenda” for the White House talks but also warned of “frank discussions about some serious challenges and some serious concerns.” The anti-terror alliance between Washington and Islamabad has been troubled ever since it was forged in the days after the September 11 attacks in 2001.
But it has been especially frayed since the US raid to kill Osama bin Laden on Pakistani territory in 2011 and a US airstrike, which it claimed, ‘mistakenly’ killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border later the same year.
Washington needs Pakistan's cooperation as it prepares to withdraw thousands of pieces of heavy equipment from Afghanistan ahead of the end of Nato combat operations at the end of 2014.
The United States also wants the Pakistani government to do more to crack down on militant havens. Pakistan, meanwhile, is chafing at continued US drone strikes against militants on its territory.
The senior US official said that Sharif took along his national security advisor, and finance and energy ministers to the meeting with Kerry.
“I think the inclusion of those three ministers is pretty indicative of the priorities of the Sharif government ... in the first 100 days,” the official said.