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U.S. Defends Drone Program After Rights-Group Criticism

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif speaking at the U.S. Institute of Peace on October 22
WASHINGTON -- The United States has defended the use of drones against terrorist suspects and rejected claims by human rights groups that it had violated international law.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said on October 22 that Washington was reviewing reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on civilian deaths in the drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen.

The Amnesty International report said that some drone strikes in Pakistan could amount to war crimes.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is on a visit to Washignton, called for the United States to end drone strikes, saying they violated his country's territorial integrity.

Speaking at the United States Institute of Peace, Sharif said there was broad opposition to the drone program in Pakistan.

"In my first statement to the parliament, I had reiterated our strong commitment to ensuring an end to the drone attacks," Sharif said. "More recently, after political parties, in a national conference, had declared that the use of drones is not only a continued violation of our territorial integrity, but also detrimental to our resolve and efforts at eliminating terrorism from our country. This issue has become a major irritant in our bilateral relationship, as well. I would therefore stress the need for end to drone attacks."

Nonetheless, Sharif emphasized that his country's relations with the United States remain solid.

"Contrary to the common perception, Pakistan-United States relations have stood the test of time," Sharif said. "Despite the occasional hiccups, the historic foundation of this vital relationship have always weathered the occasional storm and turbulence."

Sharif added that terrorism continues to be the "greatest challenge" confronting his country.

"The greatest challenge to Pakistan comes from terrorism and extremism," he said. "But Pakistan is neither a source of, nor the epicenter of terrorism, as sometimes alleged."

Activists estimate that more than 300 drone strikes have killed around 2,000 people in Pakistan, including senior Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders, since 2004.

With additional reporting by dpa and AFP