ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The United States and Pakistan agreed yesterday to restart high-level talks on security and other issues, yet the two sides still deeply mistrust each other in a relationship frayed by disputes over issues such as U.S. drone attacks, which Secretary of State John Kerry said could end soon.
Kerry's remarks to Pakistan TV about a possible end to the CIA-led program of drone strikes was the first time an official has said the Obama administration wants to end the program. Kerry offered no timetable, and spokeswomen assured reporters he was merely reflecting President Barack Obama's statements in a speech earlier this year.
Kerry announced the resumption of talks during his first visit to Pakistan as secretary of state. He said the United States does not want bilateral relations defined solely by hot-button security issues such as counterterrorism and the war in Afghanistan.
"In the last few years we've experienced a few differences," Kerry said, politely understating the testy, roller coaster relationship with Pakistan. "We cannot allow events that might divide us in a small way [to] distract from the common values and the common interests that unite us in big ways."
Pakistani officials have been angry about U.S. drone strikes against suspected militants in Pakistan, claiming they violate their sovereignty. They used Kerry's visit to press the United States to stop the drone attacks.
"I think the program will end as we have eliminated most of the threat and continue to eliminate it," Kerry told the Pakistan TV interviewer. "I think the president has a very real timeline and we hope it's going to be very, very soon."
Kerry had meetings with newly elected Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and national security adviser Sartaj Aziz, and a three-hour discussion with Pakistan's powerful army chief, Gen. Ashram Parvez Kayani.
Aziz called for an end to the drone strikes, which Pakistani officials say kill civilians, breed militancy and fuel anti-American sentiment. Washington says it needs to attack dangerous militants with drones because Pakistan's government, which says its military is overstretched, refuses to engage them militarily.