President-elect Donald Trump spoke by phone with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in one of the many routine, get-acquainted chats he’ll have before entering the White House.
These talks rarely if ever make news, but Wednesday’s conversation raised eyebrows because Trump lavished praise on Sharif and Pakistan despite years of tension between the two countries.
Here’s part of the read-out of their conversation, as released by Pakistan’s Press Information Department:
“President Trump said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif you have a very good reputation. You are a terrific guy. You are doing amazing work which is visible in every way. I am looking forward to see you soon. As I am talking to you Prime Minister, I feel I am talking to a person I have known for long. Your country is amazing with tremendous opportunities. Pakistanis are one of the most intelligent people. I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems.”
Michael Kugelman, a South Asia associate at the Wilson Center, says it was not a full or verbatim transcript, but “the tone of the conversation and even some of the words that were used were the type of language that Donald Trump would use.”
Dan Markey, with Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said it’s remarkable Trump would be so effusive, given the troubled relationship between the countries.
“Calling into question what kind of ally Pakistan has been, war on terrorism, hiding of Osama bin Laden, criticizing them for that, suggestions that Pakistan is no kind of friend of the United States,” said Markey, referring to previous remarks by Trump.
Back in 2012, Trump tweeted, “Get it straight: Pakistan is not our friend. We’ve given them billions and billions of dollars, and what did we get? Betrayal and disrespect — and much worse. #TimeToGetTough”
Markey said Trump’s offer to help Sharif with “any outstanding problems” could be interpreted by Pakistanis to mean Kashmir, a territory claimed by both Pakistan and its arch-rival, India. The countries have fought two wars over Kashmir and still trade fire in the Himalayan territory.
Markey says India is likely concerned about Trump’s conversation with Sharif.
“When loose comments about helping Pakistan with whatever it needs are made, Indians can’t help but wonder how the Pakistanis will try to use that to their advantage,” he said.
Kugelman, of the Wilson Center, said this shows it’s hard to know what to expect from Trump, especially when it comes to foreign policy.
“Here we are expecting … Trump would be in no hurry to reach out to Pakistan and then he happily accepts a call from its prime minister and says incredibly nice things,” he said. “So who knows what’s in store?”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said President Obama has benefited from the expertise of career diplomats at the State Department in dealing with foreign leaders.
“I think President Trump would certainly benefit from it in the same way President Obama did when he took office,” Earnest said.
Trump’s transitional team released its own read-out of the conversation, saying the talk was “productive” and that the president-elect looked forward to working with Sharif.
The Pakistani government press office later released a second version of the conversation between the two men. It was more toned down than the first, but still mentioned that “Pakistan is a fantastic country of fantastic people.”