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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sharp cuts in drone attacks unacceptable: US

WASHINGTON: A summit of spymasters this week eased tensions but failed to resolve issues over U.S. drones and espionage that have imperiled the vital relationship between the CIA and Pakistan's main intelligence agency, citing US officials Reuters reported.

The U.S. spy agency is willing to expand consultations with Pakistan over drone operations, U.S. officials told Reuters after CIA Director Leon Panetta hosted Lieutenant General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency.

But demands by some Pakistani officials for sharp cuts in drone attacks are unacceptable, the officials said, as are suggestions the United States should return to a Bush-era policy limiting the strikes to "high-value" militant targets.

"Panetta has an obligation to protect the American people and he isn't going to call an end to any operations that support that objective," one U.S. official said.

Despite public protestations by Islamabad about the drone strikes, Pakistan hopes the United States will move ahead with long-stalled plans to supply a fleet of the remotely piloted aircraft, according to a source familiar with its wish-list.

U.S. officials also worry that Islamabad has been slowing routine rotations of American personnel, including spies, diplomats and military trainers, which could become a serious drag on routine and secret U.S. activities in the region.

The issue of U.S. personnel levels in Pakistan -- a Muslim nation with nuclear arms and a history of conflict with India -- was discussed during Pasha's visit, one U.S. official said.

The meeting between Panetta and Pasha was a relatively brief but the CIA said it was productive.

"We have a strong relationship with our Pakistani counterparts and we work through concerns when they arise," CIA spokesman George Little said. "That's the nature of a solid partnership."

Privately, officials said the meeting showed an improvement in relations from earlier this year, when U.S. authorities were enraged by the jailing of CIA contractor Raymond Davis after he shot two Pakistani men who he said were trying to rob him.

In the wake of the case, media reports quoted Pakistani intelligence sources as saying the ISI wanted drastic concessions from Washington.

But U.S. officials said many of the sharpest demands floated by the Pakistani sources were never raised by Pasha and that he and Panetta have a good personal rapport.

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