A ‘complicated’ US-Pakistan relationship kept outgoing President Barack Obama from visiting Islamabad, according to a presidential spokesman, even though the American leader had wanted to do so.

“At one point in his presidency, I do recall President Obama expressing a desire to travel to Pakistan,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters at a news briefing on Thursday.

Obama’s perception of Pakistan

“For a variety of reasons, some of them relating to the complicated relationship between our two countries at certain times over the last eight years, President Obama was not able to realise that ambition,” he said when asked why the outgoing president had never visited Pakistan while in office.

The question was prompted by reports that President-elect Donald Trump expressed keenness to visit Pakistan in a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In the phone call which took place on Wednesday, Trump also lauded Pakistan as a ‘fantastic country with fantastic people’.

When asked to comment on the conversation, Earnest said: “I’d refer you to the president-elect’s team for more of a description of what the president-elect may have communicated to the prime minister of Pakistan … [but] obviously, President Obama’s conversations with his counterpart in Pakistan have been an important priority.”

Pakistan’s place in Obama’s world

While admitting that Pakistan-US ties had not always been smooth over the last eight years, the White House spokesman said Washington nevertheless sees the relationship as vital. “Obviously is an important relationship.  There have been areas where the United States and Pakistan have been able to effectively coordinate our efforts.”

Commenting on Trump’s reported interest in visiting Pakistan, Earnest added: “Ultimately, when President Trump begins planning his overseas travel, he’ll have a range of places to consider, and Pakistan would certainly be one of them.”

“One thing we do know is that it sends a powerful message to the people of a country when the President of the United States goes to visit.