“We are still talking with the Pakistanis and trying to understand what they did know, what they didn’t know” about bin Laden’s apparently years-long residence in a garrison city north of the Pakistani capital, Defense Undersecretary Michele Flournoy said at the Aspen Institute in Washington.
Obama administration officials said they were uncertain whether the statement by Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, which also acknowledged “shortcomings” in Pakistani intelligence on bin Laden, reflected Pakistan’s actual stance or whether it amounted to posturing for a domestic audience.
In conversations with U.S. officials, one administration official said, Kayani had been “much more nuanced. . . . We didn’t hear this bellicosity.”
Regardless of the statement’s intended audience, it reflected the intense anger felt at the highest levels of Pakistan’s powerful military toward the United States and suggested that the two countries remain far apart in how they view bin Laden’s killing.
The discovery of the terrorist leader’s refuge deepened belief in Washington that elements of Pakistan’s army had provided him sanctuary. But Pakistan’s military and intelligence establishment has chafed at U.S. expressions of victory and shown acute resentment about what it deems a lack of gratitude for Pakistan’s partnership.
The administration has asked Pakistan for details about the compound where bin Laden lived in Abbottabad and who had access to it. But officials have largely refrained from criticizing Pakistan in recent days while trying to keep a crucial, if unsteady, counterterrorism partnership from completely unraveling.
“It is not always an easy relationship,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday in Rome, on the sidelines of an international conference on Libya. “But, on the other hand, it is a productive one for both of our countries, and we are going to continue to cooperate.”
At White House meetings Wednesday, President Obama’s national security advisers discussed how long to wait before delivering a sterner message to Pakistan, what it should be and who should deliver it, the administration official said. One option under consideration is for Vice President Biden, who visited with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari in January, to make a phone call. Another is to wait until Clinton visits Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, later this month.
“We realize that at this point we have a great degree of leverage, and we want to make sure we use it wisely and effectively, because it won’t last long,” said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the situation on the record.