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Civil nuclear issue on Pakistan's agenda as talks with U.S. begin

From Charley Keyes, CNN Senior Producer
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmoud Qureshi on Wednesday.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shakes hands with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmoud Qureshi on Wednesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Top U.S., Pakistani officials started two days of talks Wednesday
  • "I am aware some skepticism remains," says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
  • Pakistan's leaders want to reach agreement with the U.S. on civil nuclear development
  • Pakistan's foreign minister pledges help to U.S. on Afghanistan stability

Washington (CNN) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is promising "a new day" in U.S.-Pakistan relations and new efforts to move beyond previous mistrust and misunderstandings. And Pakistan is hoping improved relations will generate new American help with civilian nuclear power.

Clinton started two days of high-level talks with Pakistani leaders Wednesday morning at the State Department. She was joined by Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and officials from both countries, including U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen.

The meeting, formally known as the United States-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, is the latest recognition of Pakistan's importance to the United States in the fight against extremism.

"We know that in recent years misperceptions and mistrust have grown between our countries, on both sides of the relationship. Foreign Minister Qureshi and I have worked hard to overcome that," Clinton said at the opening event of two days of meetings.

She spoke in the ornate Benjamin Franklin room on the eighth floor of the State Department building. She and Qureshi sat at the head of a large U-shaped table, flanked by dozens of officials and aides from both countries.

"I am aware some skepticism remains. So I want to say a word directly to the people of Pakistan," Clinton said. "Our countries have had our misunderstandings and disagreements in the past and there are sure to be more disagreements in the future, as there are sure to be between any friends or, frankly, between any family members. But this is a new day -- for the past year the Obama administration has shown in our words and our deeds a different approach and a different attitude toward Pakistan."

One disagreement that was not directly addressed was the U.S. refusal to formally recognize Pakistan as a nuclear-weapon power. Pakistan's leaders also want to reach an agreement with the United States on civil nuclear development -- similar to what the United States already has with India -- to help Pakistan develop new nuclear power plants to ease its electricity shortage.

Qureshi made glancing reference to this when he called for new access to what he called "vital energy resources."

Whenever the relationship between the United States and Pakistan has frayed, the interests of both our nations have suffered.
--Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi
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"We hope that together Pakistan and the U.S. will build a robust economic partnership which rests primarily on increased trade and market access so that we can expand economic opportunities in Pakistan and fight extremism strategically," Qureshi said. "We hope nondiscriminatory access to vital energy resources will also be available to us so that we, too, can pursue our economic and industrial development plans."

The nuclear issue was part of a long list Pakistan officials brought to the meeting. They requested a wide range of assistance in addition to help with civilian nuclear technology.

Qureshi pledged Pakistan's help in attaining peace and stability in next-door Afghanistan. And he said Pakistan hopes that its recent crackdown on extremists, especially along its border with Afghanistan, will generate new support from the Obama administration.

"Whenever the relationship between the United States and Pakistan has frayed, the interests of both our nations have suffered," Qureshi said. "Whenever we have worked together, both our nations and the world have benefited."

Clinton hit the same notes. "Today's dialogue is not a one-time event. It is the first in a series of continuing, substantive discussions that will continue in the years ahead," she said, adding that representatives of both countries are prepared "to look at the goals we set and to figure out how we can make progress together."

 
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