SEOUL (Reuters) - The White House made clear on Monday that President Barack Obama would seek to put strained relations with Pakistan on a more even footing when he meets Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani at the end of a nuclear security summit in Seoul.
The meeting on Tuesday will be the highest-level contact between the uneasy allies since U.S. commandos killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani military town in May last year, a raid Pakistan called a violation of its sovereignty.
Ties plunged to a new low in November when aircraft from NATO’s Afghanistan force mistakenly attacked two Pakistani border posts and killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.
“There obviously has been a fairly turbulent period in U.S.-Pakistan relations over the course of the last several months,” U.S. deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters in Seoul on Monday.
“We’ll want to address the state of the relationship.”
He said Obama would assure Gilani of “our continued interest in counter-terrorism cooperation” with Pakistan and stress shared interests in stabilizing neighboring Afghanistan.
The Pakistani leader would bring up a parliamentary review that has been drawing up recommendations on how to proceed on ties with Washington, Rhodes said.
Pakistan’s cooperation is considered critical to U.S. efforts to stabilize Afghanistan before most foreign combat troops leave at the end of 2014. Pakistan has strong traditional links with the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups.
Adding to tension, however, a U.S. military official said on Saturday there were no plans to discipline any American forces over the deadly cross-border strike on November 26 that plunged relations into crisis.
A U.S. military investigation last year had already exonerated American troops operating in Afghanistan from inappropriate use of force against the Pakistani forces - even as the U.S. military acknowledged some of the blame in the incident.
In response to the incident, Pakistan shut off ground supply lines to the U.S.-led NATO mission in land-locked Afghanistan - an issue Obama will likely address in Tuesday’s talks.
Some U.S. lawmakers were deeply skeptical when Pakistan denied any knowledge that bin Laden had been hiding out near Islamabad before U.S. special forces tracked him down and killed him. Washington has provided about $20 billion in aid to Pakistan over the past decade.
Despite that, Rhodes said: “When we step back, we’ve continued to make significant progress against our core interest with regard to Pakistan, which is putting al Qaeda on a path to defeat. And that remains our focus.”
He said Obama would also discuss with Gilani plans for a transition to an Afghan security lead in Afghanistan and U.S. support to an Afghan-led reconciliation process.
Rhodes was quick to dismiss Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s warning on Monday of growing instability in the West’s relations with Pakistan.
“I‘m not sure that he has any particular insight into NATO’s relationship with Pakistan,” he said.
“I think NATO has had a relationship since the beginning of the Afghan war, because we have a shared interest with Pakistan and there not being violent extremist groups within their border and instability in Afghanistan,” Rhodes said.
It was unclear, however, whether Obama and Gilani’s agenda would include U.S. concern about security of Pakistan’s nuclear materials, which are considered an area of high risk because of internal security threats from militants.
Editing by Robert Birsel