Pakistan PM, U.S. president to meet at Seoul nuclear summit

ISLAMABAD Fri Mar 23, 2012 5:51pm IST

Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani attends a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, January 26, 2012. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/Files

Pakistan Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani attends a session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, January 26, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann/Files

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ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani will meet with U.S. President Barack Obama on March 27 on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit in Seoul, the prime minister's office said on Friday.

Relations between the two uneasy allies have been frayed after the discovery and killing of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a Pakistani military town in May 2011 just two hours from Islamabad. Pakistan called that a violation of its sovereignty.

Ties plunged to a new low in November when NATO aircraft mistakenly attacked two Pakistani border posts and killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Details on the agenda for the Seoul talks were sketchy, but spokesman Akram Shaheedi said they would touch on issues of importance to both sides.

The Seoul summit will focus on measures to protect nuclear materials and facilities from militants and to prevent their illicit trafficking. Pakistan's nuclear weapons and their security are likely to be discussed.

Pakistan's is the fastest growing nuclear arsenal in the world, with the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimating that it could number between 150-200 warheads in a decade, making its arsenal larger than Britain's.

The unstable south Asian country has been the lone hold-out on starting talks leading to a treaty that would prevent the further production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. It cites concerns that it would be left at a disadvantage against traditional rival India, which has its own nuclear arsenal.

Pakistan has fought and lost three wars and several major skirmishes with India since partition in 1947.

While the United States has publicly expressed confidence in Pakistan's ability to safeguard its weapons and fissile material from militant groups such as al Qaeda, officials have privately voiced concern. Those concerns were especially heightened after an assault on a naval base near Karachi by al Qaeda-backed fighters shortly after the bin Laden raid.

Analysts said at the time that the assault showed that militants were developing the capability to penetrate highly-secure areas and hold their ground for several hours.

Next week's meeting would be the highest-level meeting between the two uneasy allies since the bin Laden raid. A proposed meeting between Gilani and Obama in New York at the United Nations in September was called off at the last minute after Obama reportedly refused to meet with him.

The last such high-level meeting was in January 2011, when President Asif Ali Zardari visited the White House.

(Editing by Ron Popeski)

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