US State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel. - File

The United States said on Monday that it had confidence in Pakistan’s ability to secure its nuclear arsenal after President Joe Biden expressed alarm, leading Islamabad to summon the US ambassador.

“The United States is confident of Pakistan’s commitment and its ability to secure its nuclear assets,” State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters.

“The US has always viewed a secure and prosperous Pakistan as critical to US interests and, more broadly, the US values our long-standing cooperation with Pakistan,” he said.

Biden made the off-the-cuff remarks on Pakistan’s nuclear programme last Thursday while at a private Democratic Party fundraiser in California where he began to discuss challenges facing President Xi Jinping of China, a close ally of Pakistan.

“And what I think is maybe one of the most dangerous nations in the world: Pakistan. Nuclear weapons without any cohesion,” Biden said, according to a White House transcript.

The story came to light when the White House released the transcript on Saturday. Though the White House spokesperson later played down Biden’s remarks insisting the US President wanted stable and prosperous Pakistan, the damage had already been done.

The remarks triggered an immediate backlash from Pakistan, which summoned the US envoy in Islamabad to explain Biden’s uncalled for remarks.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif tweeted that Pakistan was a “responsible nuclear state” and that it takes safety measures “with the utmost seriousness”.

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said that Biden’s remarks should not hurt relations, noting that the president was not speaking at an official function.

But Bilawal, who recently visited Washington, called for more interaction with Biden showing little interest in personally engaging his Pakistani counterparts.

Meanwhile, Islamabad and Washington have been working quietly to make sure recent efforts seeking a reset in the relationship remain on track.

Official sources said on Monday that the US conveyed to Pakistan that President Biden’s statement did not mean any new demand or policy shift in Washington’s approach.

Although Pakistan rejected Biden’s statement and summoned the US ambassador to record a formal protest, both countries are keen to move on from the controversy.

Sources said Ambassador Donald Blome during his meeting with the foreign secretary on Saturday explained in detail about the context of Biden’s statement.

The US envoy assured that the Biden administration wanted to see a “prosperous and stable” Pakistan.

The government too is keen to focus on the positive engagement between the two countries instead of getting bogged down to what was seen as off the cuff remarks by President Biden.

Patel also noted that USAID chief Samantha Power and State Department Counselor Derek Chollet have both visited since devastating floods hit Pakistan.

“This is a relationship we view as important and it’s something that we’re going to continue to remain deeply engaged in,” he said.


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