An anti-drone protest in Islamabad, October 5, 2012.
Mian Khursheed / Courtesy Reuters

While on an official visit to Islamabad last week, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that the Obama administration has a “very real timeline” for ending the U.S. drone program in Pakistan, and that “we hope it’s going to be very, very soon.” The State Department jumped in to clarify Kerry’s surprising comments, explaining that there is no definite timetable and that “in no way would we ever deprive ourselves of a tool to fight a threat if it arises.”

Kerry clearly got out ahead of the rest of the administration. It is possible that his remarks were a mere gaffe or, at the other extreme, a calculated trial balloon. But the most likely explanation is that the secretary of state’s words reflect another round in a complicated negotiation over the drone campaign -- not between Washington and Islamabad, but between the State Department and

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  • DANIEL MARKEY is a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the forthcoming No Exit From Pakistan: America's Tortured Relationship with Islamabad.
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