House Speaker John Boehner said on Tuesday that the U.S. relationship with Pakistan is “critical to breaking the back of al-Qaida” and called for a closer relationship with Islamabad.
Brushing aside much of the criticism heaped on the Pakistanis after the killing of Osama bin Laden, Boehner said Pakistan was a critical ally.
“We both benefit from having a strong bilateral relationship. This is not a time to back away from Pakistan,” Boehner said. “We need more engagement, not less.”
Boehner made the remarks to a handful of reporters in his Capitol office following a congressional visit to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Belgium.
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After U.S. forces killed bin Laden in Pakistan on Sunday, Islamabad came under intense criticism for allowing the al-Qaida leader to live undetected for many years within its borders. Boehner urged perspective. “It is important for the U.S. to look Pakistan in the eye and come to a real understanding on where they are. Our engagement needs to be robust. We need to have an eyeball-to-eyeball conversation about where this relationship is going.”
The speaker dismissed any talk of reduced foreign aid to the Pakistanis: “It's premature” to discuss cutting or eliminating aid to Pakistan. He called the relationship “critical” to U.S. national security—saying success in Afghanistan is linked directly to cooperation from Pakistan. “They have been helpful. They have lost more troops than we have.”
Boehner said the $20 billion in U.S. aid to Pakistan since 9/11 “has been worth it. Is it expensive? Yes.”
Boehner also said he would support a “residual force” in Iraq after the December 31 withdrawal date. “There are clearly gaps in the security there. It would be a shame to take a risk and let that investment be jeopardized.”
Boehner said a request for a prolonged U.S. military presence in Iraq after December 31 is inevitable. “It is as plain as day. It’s as clear as the blue sky. And if they ask we should be willing to work with them.”
Boehner would not say how large U.S. forces should stay there.
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