Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday the United States would not pursue Taliban leaders in Pakistan and that it was up to Islamabad to address the threat posed by militants on its territory.
His comments followed a report the White House had granted authority to the Central Intelligence Agency to expand a bombing campaign in Pakistan by unmanned aircraft to strike Taliban and Al-Qaeda figures.
"Pakistan is a sovereign government. We are in a partnership with them. I think at this point it's up to the Pakistani military to deal with this problem," Gates told CBS News' "Face the Nation."
He added that the United States had confidence that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal was secure despite the threat posed by Islamist insurgents.
"We're comfortable" with the security of the country's atomic weapons, Gates said.
The New York Times reported on Friday that the CIA had been authorized to step up the use of armed drones in Pakistan's tribal areas to hunt down and strike suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders.
The Times, citing unnamed sources, said that the decision came last week, coinciding with President Barack Obama's announcement Tuesday to deploy 30,000 additional US troops to fight Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
US officials were also talking with Pakistan about using the drones to strike in Baluchistan -- a vast region outside of the tribal areas that borders Afghanistan and Iran -- where Afghan Taliban leaders are reportedly hiding, the Times wrote.
The CIA declined to comment on the report.
Appearing on the same program, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Pakistan for launching an offensive against the Taliban inside its borders, saying Islamabad had appeared reluctant to take such action in the past.
"You know if you had told us a year ago that the Pakistani army would be going after Pakistani Taliban, I think a lot of people would've said no, that couldn't ever happen, that's not the way it works," she said.
"But they saw the threat to their sovereignty," said Clinton, citing insurgent attacks on government targets in Pakistan.