WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama welcomed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan to the White House on Wednesday, seeking to bolster his new civilian government and mend perennially frayed ties between the countries.
Sharif said after the meeting that he had asked Obama to halt U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan, one issue that has aggravated tensions. The president did not respond publicly, saying only that the two sides needed to find ways to fight terrorism "that respect Pakistan's sovereignty, that respect the concerns of both countries."
"It's a challenge, it's not easy," Obama said, with Sharif seated next to him. "We committed to working together and making sure that rather than this being a source of tension between our two countries, that it can be a source of strength for us working together in a constructive and respectful way."
To symbolize a new beginning, the Obama administration will release more than $1.5 billion in aid to Pakistan, which had been held up because of tensions over the commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, as well as the killing of two civilians by a CIA contractor in Lahore and a wayward U.S. airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border.
By the reckoning of experts, it was the third time since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that the United States and Pakistan have tried to reset their relationship.
Some experts said that Sharif had yet to show much progress on either the economy or fighting terrorism, and warned that this "reset," like others before it, was prone to dashed expectations.
"I'm all for engagement, but it should be engagement without delusions," said Husain Haqqani, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States. "None of the fundamentals are going to change as a result of this meeting."