US-Pak nuclear deal unlikely during Sharif’s visit this week

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Oct 20, 2015 07:25 IST
A combination photo of Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif and US President Barack Obama. (Agencies)

Chances of the US signing a nuclear deal with Pakistan during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to the White House this Thursday continue to dim with every passing day.

A statement issued by the White House on Monday previewing the visit mentioned nuclear security and other issues Sharif will discuss with President Barack Obama. But no nuclear deal. Briefing reporters earlier in the day, Obama’s spokesperson, Josh Earnest, said, “I would significantly reduce your expectations about that (the nuclear deal) occurring on Thursday.”

That’s consistent with his earlier response to a question about a flurry of recent reports in US media indicating a nuclear deal with Pakistan was on the table, for the coming meet.

“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 last week.

“And we continue to have confidence that the government of Pakistan is well aware of the range of potential threats to its nuclear arsenal, and 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.”

To be clear, the White House has not denied reports of a nuclear deal being discussed by the two countries. It is merely insisting that the deal is most likely to not happen this Thursday.

Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world which is expected to become the third largest after the US and Russia by 2025 by one estimate.

According to reports, not officially confirmed or denied, the US wants Pakistan to cap its nuclear arsenal at a level appropriate for its defence needs regarding India.

In return, US will facilitate easier access for Pakistan to the 38-member Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) that is prohibited from trading with non-NPT countries through waivers.

In short, Pakistan must accept a limit on its nuclear arsenal, thereby opening itself up to inspections, in return for nuclear supplies for its civilian use facilities, essentially energy.

This is nothing like the deal India signed with the US in 2005, and which Pakistan has been demanding since. Indian arsenal is completely outside the deal, not subject to any inspections.

For that reasons alone Pakistan will be loathe to accept this deal as news reports from Islamabad have indicated since the story first broke about it here in the United States.

Here in Washington DC, Pakistani national security adviser, who reached ahead of the Prime Minister, has said there will be no compromise on national security issues.

“Pakistan’s nuclear facilities exist due to the hazards posed by the neighbouring country,” Aziz said in an interview to Geo News.

Pakistan, he added, is a responsible nuclear state and its nuclear arms in the context of the neighbouring country (India) will not come under discussion with the US.

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