US to press Pakistan on Taliban, nuclear security

May 5th, 2009 - 10:19 am ICT by IANS  

Taliban Washington, May 5 (IANS) President Barack Obama will press Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to continue a military drive against Taliban insurgents to prevent a situation that might threaten its stability and nuclear arsenal, US officials say.
Obama is scheduled to meet Zardari and Afghan President Hamed Karzai separately at the White House Wednesday and then hold a three-way summit on regional security.

In comments on the eve of Zardari’s arrival in Washington for the crucial meetings, State Department spokesman Robert Wood Monday said he believed Pakistani “Government and military have received the message” about the threat from militants.

“However, that message continues to need to be reinforced because… these violent extremists pose a very serious threat to not only Pakistan, but countries of the region,” he said indicating that Zardari will hear that message repeated in Washington.

“What’s important here is that these violent extremists be confronted,” said Wood. “The Pakistani government and military realise the threat, and are taking steps to try to address that threat.

“And we have to continue, as others have been doing as well, to encourage them to continue to step up that fight. Because this is an existential threat that the government of Pakistan faces.”

The New York Times reported Monday that US officials are increasingly concerned about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal because of the spreading insurgency, including the possibility that militants might seize a weapon in transit or infiltrate nuclear facilities.

But on that issue, Wood echoed comments by Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that he is “comfortable” that nuclear weapons in Pakistan are secure.

“We’re confident that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal will remain out of militant hands,” he said.

“Command and control of that nuclear arsenal is a high priority for the government of Pakistan. And Pakistan has been engaged with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) in a very intense discussion. It’s got export control legislation that it has put forward. So we do not have that concern.”

Wood said the physical security around Pakistani nuclear weapons is very solid. He said he was unaware of any discussion within the US government about possible American intervention in Pakistan in case insurgents threatened nuclear sites.

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