Obama concedes strains between US, Pakistan

ANNE GEARAN AP National Security Writer Published:

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Conceding strained ties, President Barack Obama on Tuesday welcomed Pakistan's review of its relationship with the United States, saying it was important for the two countries to get their partnership right.

Obama spoke alongside Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani before the two men held private talks. The meeting comes amid heightened tensions between their countries following a series of incidents that have marred trust.

"There have been times -- I think we should be frank -- in the last several months where those relations have experienced strains," Obama said of the dynamic between the U.S. and Pakistan.

The breakdown in the relationship followed the shooting death of two alleged Pakistani assailants by a CIA officer and the U.S. Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May. The tipping point came in November, when U.S. forces returned fire they believed came from a Pakistani border post, killing 24 Pakistani troops.

Pakistan broke off ties with the U.S. following the incident and launched a debate about new terms of engagement with the U.S., including the sensitive issue of CIA drone strikes on targets inside Pakistani borders.

Pakistan has rejected offers by U.S. officials to give its spy chief advanced notice of the CIA's drone campaign against al-Qaida in Pakistan and to apply new limits on the types of targets hit.

Obama said it was important for the U.S. and Pakistan to have candid and open talks. He said he expects Pakistan's review will result in a "balanced approach that respects Pakistan's sovereignty but also respects our concerns with respect to our national security and our needs to battle terrorists who have targeted us in the past."

Pakistan is a key U.S. counterterrorism partner and its cooperation is essential for drawing down the American-led war in neighboring Afghanistan.

Gilani, speaking at the start of his meeting with Obama, said he wanted stability in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And he said he appreciated Obama's statements of respect for Pakistan's sovereignty.

Obama and Gilani were meeting on the sidelines of an international nuclear security summit in the South Korean capital.