President Obama asserted he was confident Pakistan is committed to maintaining security around its nuclear arsenal on Wednesday, just weeks after it was revealed the U.S. intelligence community has made surveillance of the South Asian country's nuclear sites one of its top priorities.
In a joint statement released following a meeting at the White House between Obama and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the U.S. leader "reiterated his confidence in Pakistan's commitment and dedication to nuclear security and recognized that Pakistan is fully engaged with the international community on nuclear safety and security issues."
The U.S. government in the past has publicly touted Islamabad's commitment to nuclear security when new concerns were raised that Pakistani-based extremists -- who have carried out attacks in recent years on large Pakistani military bases -- might be able to penetrate one of the country's facilities where nuclear weapons or materials are held. The validity of those public assurances took a hit in September when it was revealed -- through documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden -- that keeping tabs on the security of Pakistan's nuclear, chemical and biological facilities was consuming a growing share of U.S. intelligence agencies' black budget.
An analysis of the documents leaked by Snowden to the Washington Post shows the U.S. government is concerned about the lack of information it has on how exactly nuclear material is spread out around Pakistan's facilities.
The concerns of the U.S. intelligence community were not in evidence in the public statement released on Wednesday. Rather, Obama noted his appreciation with "Pakistan's constructive engagement with the Nuclear Security Summit Process and its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and other international forums" and acknowledged "Pakistan's efforts to improve its strategic trade controls."
The statement did not touch on concerns by the U.S. government that Pakistan's recent focus on developing compact lower-yield nuclear weapons might make it easier for extremists groups to steal off with an entire warhead, the New York Times reported.