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With Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and a power-packed delegation turning up the pressure on Pakistan, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee said Friday morning that the United States should be ready to abandon its partnership with Islamabad if the government does not change its ways.

Sen. Carl Levin (Mich.) said he hoped that Pakistan would see that it was in its own interests to preserve its military and economic relationship with the United States by publicly renouncing the Haqqani network and other groups that have launched attacks from across the Afghan border. But he also said that the government’s failure to do so would be a “show-stopper” for normal relations with Washington.

“Our response should be that if the only option Pakistan presents us is a choice between losing an ally and continuing to lose our troops, then we will choose the former,” Levin said in an address at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The address was part of the ever-rising rhetoric on all sides of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.

Pakistan denies that elements of its government willingly provide safe havens to the Haqqani network, and the foreign minister recently said that if the Obama administration persists in such allegations, the United States “will lose an ally.” 

Clinton on Thursday warned the Pakistanis that they would pay a “very big price” if they didn’t take action against militant groups.

Members of Congress, meantime, are threatening to turn off the aid spigot to Pakistan.

But actually turning away from a nuclear-armed country whose stability is seen as crucial to the war in Afghanistan has been another matter. Among other things, Pakistan serves as a crucial supply route for U.S. troops.

Levin, asked at the Council of Foreign Relations whether the prospect of severing ties with Pakistan was an empty threat, acknowledged it would be difficult. But he pointed to the U.S. ability to target militants without Pakistan’s help, noting reports about a series of drone strikes recently against the Haqqani network’s headquarters in Miran Shah, the capital of North Waziristan.

The United States, he added, “should be prepared to take steps to defend our troops.”

“We have the right to target not only forces and artillery attacking our forces in Afghanistan from across the border in Pakistan,” Levin said, “but to target the people controlling those forces as well.”

A copy of Levin’s prepared remarks can be found here.