President Reagan and Pakistan's President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq greeted each other warmly yesterday on the White House South Lawn and then held talks for an hour and a half that included exchanges on the controversial issue of nuclear weapons development.
One of the clouds still hanging over the revived U.S.-Pakistani relationship is Pakistan's continued pursuit of advanced nuclear technologies that appear designed to give it a nuclear weapons capability.
U.S. officials involved in yesterday's talks said Zia and his aides were forcefully reminded of the "U.S. commitment against nuclear proliferation and our belief that Pakistani security will not be assisted" by the development of nuclear weapons.
The official said Zia stressed that his country has no intention of developing nuclear weapons but forcefully argued the right of developing nations to have nuclear energy.
Asked yesterday if the United States had any reason to doubt Pakistan's statement that it was not developing nuclear weapons, the official replied: "Of course we accept that the president of Pakistan is telling us the truth."
The nuclear weapons issue also came up yesterday on Capitol Hill, where Zia met with the Senate Foreign Relations and the House Foreign Affairs committees.
Zia "stated very emphatically that it is not the intention of Pakistan to develop nuclear weapons and that it is not doing so," Sen. Charles McC. Mathias Jr. (R-Md.) said.
At the White House welcoming ceremony, both Reagan and Zia stressed mutual security concerns.
"Pakistan today stands at the front rank of the nations shouldering a great responsibility for mankind," Reagan said, referring to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the nearly 3 million Afghan refugees who have sought refuge in Pakistan.
It was after Soviet troops poured into Afghanistan in December, 1979, that a new warmth developed in relations between Washington and Islamabad, culminating in agreement on a $3.2 billion development and security assistance program that now is jeopardized by Congress. Another issue of concern to Congress, Pakistan's human rights record, apparently was not brought up in yesterday's White House talks, but the official said the "subject of U.S. policy on democratization and human rights is going to be discussed and will be adequately treated."
Since Zia has completed his scheduled talks with top-ranking White House and State Department officials, it was unclear when the issues would be raised.
U.S. officials have stressed their continuing concern over human rights conditions under Zia, who took power in a military coup in 1977, but have preferred the course of "quiet diplomacy" under the Reagan administration. Expressions of support for democratic rule have been similarly muted.
Mathias said Zia told the senators that "Pakistan would move toward maximum recognition of human rights as it moves toward the rule of law and a democratic system." He said the Pakistani leader gave no timetable for democratic rule.
For his part, Zia stressed the strategic concerns over Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf that have reinvigorated a relationship that was rooted in formal regional alliances in the 1950s, but he made it clear that the basis of the relationship has changed in the 1980s.
"Pakistan's continued commitment to the principle of nonalignment and to the objectives of the Islamic Conference are the fundamental postulates of its foreign policy," Zia told Reagan at the South Lawn ceremonies.
At the same time, Zia cited "shared values and perceptions" between the two countries, language that Reagan has used in greeting other Third World leaders, but which he omitted in his remarks yesterday.
Praising Reagan, the Pakistani leader borrowed a favorite phrase of the president, saying he and Reagan have "a rendezvous with destiny."
Following his White House talks, Zia went to the Pentagon for lunch and talks with Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger.
The Reagans hosted the Zias at a state dinner last night.