Hagel gets assurance of supply line passage in Pakistan from Sharif

Dec. 9, 2013 at 3:56 PM
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ISLAMABAD, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Pakistan Monday blocked NATO supply lines could jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in military assistance.

Hagel, who was in Islamabad, is concerned with regional officials' threats of interference with supply lines passing through Pakistan to Afghanistan. He was assured by Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif the government would take action to guarantee the safe passage of shipments through the Torkham border crossing, Pentagon officials said.

In meetings between Sharif and Hagel, Sharif raised the subject of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's tribal belt, a highly contentious issue that his electoral rivals have used against him, the New York Times reported. Sharif said drone strikes were counterproductive to the Pakistan government's work to combat terrorism and extremism on an ongoing basis, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

Sharif and Hagel also discussed regional matters of mutual interest, Pakistan's Foreign Office said.

"The two leaders agreed to work together to strengthen Pakistan-U.S. relations and advance the shared interest of a stable, secure and prosperous Pakistan and the region," a statement issued by the Foreign Office said.

Hagel also met with Pakistan's new military leader, Lt. Gen. Raheel Sharif, at Rawalpindi, a garrison city near Islamabad. In a statement, the general, no relation to the prime minister, said the defense relationship between the two countries, bilateral ties and regional stability were discussed.

Before the meetings, a senior Pentagon official said while the United States and Pakistan have a "significant overlap" of regional security interests, "it has not been 100 percent."

Washington has claimed Pakistani intelligence officials were trying to stake influence in Afghanistan through covert support for terrorist groups that target Americans and Afghans, the Times said. The Pakistani government has expressed outrage over U.S. drone strikes against militant targets in Pakistan, some of which have killed civilians.

"There is some friction in the relationship," the Pentagon official told the Times. "One of the reasons the secretary is going to Pakistan is to address those issues head-on."

The meeting, described by American officials as cordial and constructive, was the first visit in almost four years to Pakistan by a U.S. defense secretary.

The officials said the talks were equally focused on supply lines, counter-terrorism, regional security and economic development.

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