Washington, Oct 16 (IANS) Amid reports that the US is exploring a deal to limit Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, White House acknowledged that President Barack Obama will discuss nuclear safety and security with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
But a civil nuclear deal like the one with India is unlikely “to come to fruition” when Sharif comes calling to meet Obama next week, his Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters here Thursday.
“I would not be overly excited about the prospects of reaching the kind of agreement that is being speculated about publicly,” he said when asked if the US is in fact serious about trying to work out a civilian nuclear deal with Pakistan.
“The expectation that we have is that a deal like the one that’s been discussed publicly is not something that’s likely to come to fruition next week,” Earnest said when pressed about whether Obama and Sharif would talk about it.
“But the United States and Pakistan are regularly engaged in a dialogue about the importance of nuclear security,” he said. “And I would anticipate that dialogue would include conversations between the leaders of our two countries.”
“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,” Earnest said.
The spokesman said the US continued “to have confidence that the government of Pakistan is well aware of the range of potential threats to its nuclear arsenal.”
“We continue to be confident that Pakistan has a professional and dedicated security force that understands the importance and the high priority that the world places on nuclear security,” Earnest added.
Earlier, the New York Times reported Thursday that the Obama administration is exploring a deal to limit the scope of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, but Islamabad was not ready to curb a programme that it regards as its only real defence against India.
The talks being held ahead of Sharif arrival “focus on American concern that Pakistan might be on the verge of deploying a small tactical nuclear weapon . that would be far harder to secure than the country’s arsenal of larger weapons,” it said.
The discussions, the said, are being led by Peter R. Lavoy, a longtime intelligence expert on the Pakistani programme who is now on the staff of the National Security Council.
The central element of the proposal, according to officials and outside experts cited by the Times, would be a relaxation of the strict controls imposed on Pakistan by the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
The Times said Pakistani officials have demanded an India like nuclear deal that splits India’s nuclear infrastructure into a civilian programme that is under international inspection, and a military programme that is not.
“That does not appear to be on the table,” it said. “Instead, the United States is exploring ways to relax restrictions on nuclear-related technology to Pakistan, perhaps with a long-term goal of allowing the country to join the NSG.”
David Ignatius, a columnist for The Washington Post, first disclosed the exploratory talks in a column last week.
In a sharp reaction to the report, India then said Islamabad’s track record on proliferation should be taken into account in reaching a nuclear deal with Pakistan.
“All I would say is whosoever is examining that particular dossier should be well aware of Pakistan’s track record in the area of proliferation,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup Swarup then said.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)