ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan on Monday warned the U.S. general newly tasked with overseeing America's two wars that frequent missile strikes on its territory risk inflaming anti-American sentiment.
Gen. David Petraeus met with Pakistan Defense Minister Ahmad Mukhtar as part of his first international trip since taking over U.S. Central Command on Friday.
The visit indicated how crucial the U.S. considers Pakistan's support in the fight against Islamist extremists, especially those in its neighbor Afghanistan. But it also comes amid Pakistani calls to halt U.S. missile strikes on suspected militant targets on its soil.
A Defense Ministry statement said Mukhtar told Petraeus, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Richard Boucher and others in the entourage that the missile strikes from drones "generate anti-America sentiments as well as create outrage and uproar among the people."
The U.S. wants Pakistan to do more to crack down on insurgents who use pockets of its northwest region as sanctuaries from which to plan attacks on U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, where violence is running at its highest levels since 2001.
The missile strikes in the border region indicate U.S. impatience with Pakistani efforts.
Washington is suspected in at least 17 missile strikes in Pakistan since August. Despite repeated Pakistani condemnations, the strikes have continued.
In September, a U.S. ground assault in a tribal region in Pakistan's northwest spurred outrage in Pakistan and prompted a flurry of diplomatic activity. There have been no reports of additional ground assaults since.
Acting U.S. Embassy spokesman Wes Robertson declined to provide specifics on Petraeus' agenda for security reasons. However, he also is expected to meet with Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, President Asif Ali Zardari and Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
At the Defense Ministry, officials also briefed Petraeus on Pakistani military operations against insurgents in its border regions. According to the statement, both sides "stressed the need for enhanced cooperation to eliminate the scourge of terrorism."
Another topic that could come up during the general's trip is negotiations with the Taliban. Pakistani and Afghan leaders have vowed to seek talks with elements of the militant movement.
Petraeus, previously the top U.S. commander in Baghdad, has indicated support for efforts to reach out to members of the Taliban considered moderate enough to cooperate with the Afghan government.
Meanwhile, Zardari was scheduled to arrive Tuesday in oil-rich Saudi Arabia to request a deferral on oil payments and other possible support, the Foreign Ministry said. Another potential topic: negotiating with the Taliban.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan needs billions in outside assistance to avoid defaulting on its international loans. The impoverished nation of 170 million people is hampered by high inflation, chronic power outages and a sinking currency.
Analysts said Zardari's visit could yield some temporary relief, but that he was unlikely to return with a package that would render moot politically unpopular IMF aid.