WASHINGTON - At a time of heightened tensions between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan, US President Barack Obama urged Pakistan on Thursday to avoid developments in its nuclear weapons program that could increase risks and instability.
In talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the White House, Obama also sought help in getting the Afghan Taliban back to peace talks, something vital to his faltering bid to bring US troops back from Afghanistan.
With tensions high between Pakistan and India, Washington has been concerned about Pakistan's development of new nuclear weapons systems, including small tactical nuclear weapons, and has been trying to persuade Pakistan to make a unilateral declaration of "restraint."
However, Pakistani officials said Islamabad will not accept limits to its weapons program and argue that smaller tactical nuclear weapons are needed to deter a sudden attack by India.
In reference to Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, Obama "stressed the importance of avoiding any developments that might invite increased risk to nuclear safety, security, or strategic stability," a White House statement said.
In a joint statement, both leaders said "all sides" should act with restraint and work toward strategic stability in South Asia.
The statement said Obama and Sharif expressed their commitment to the Afghan peace process and called on Taliban leaders to enter direct talks with Kabul, which have stalled since inaugural discussions in Pakistan in July.
The Federation of American Scientists said this week that since 2011, Pakistan has deployed two new nuclear-capable short-range ballistic missiles and a new medium-range ballistic missile and was developing two extended-range nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and two nuclear-capable cruise missiles.
It estimated Pakistan's stockpile had grown to 110 to 130 warheads from 90 to 110 in 2011 and could reach 220 to 250 by 2025, making it the world's fifth-largest nuclear-weapons state.
Washington worries that the smaller size of tactical nuclear weapons makes them more tempting to use in a conventional war - and harder to prevent from falling into militant hands.
Pakistani officials say Washington is demanding unreasonable limits on its nuclear weapons while not offering much in return apart from a hazy promise to consider Pakistan as a recognized recipient of nuclear technology.