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Rice: U.S. Disappointed By Musharraf's Action

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday the U.S. will review aid to Pakistan and denied that President George W. Bush's administration has "put all its chips" on Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

A leading Democratic senator on foreign affairs said U.S. hands are "pretty well tied right now" because the Bush administration "has a Musharraf policy, not a Pakistani policy."

While Rice's announcement puts in question some of the billions in U.S. assistance to a close terrorism-fighting ally, a Republican lawmaker urged Bush, silent so far, to speak out "in more specific terms" and suggested that Pakistan's shift from democratic, civilian rule could jeopardize U.S. military support.

On a Mideast trip now overshadowed by the unfolding crisis in nuclear-armed Pakistan, Rice indicated the U.S. would not suspend aid wholesale.

The U.S. has provided about $11 billion to Pakistan since 2001, when Musharraf allied his presidency with Washington after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

"Some of the aid that goes to Pakistan is directly related to the counterterrorism mission," Rice told reporters traveling with her. "We just have to review the situation. But I would be very surprised if anyone wants the president to ignore or set aside our concerns about terrorism."

Bush, who has received steady updates on developments in Pakistan, is likely to make his first public comments Monday. He had not spoken directly with Musharraf as of Sunday afternoon, said national security adviser Gordon Johndroe.

"The Pakistanis and President Musharraf know well our position, and the president's position," he said. "And they are hearing it from all different levels of the U.S. government."

Returning to the White House from Camp David, Maryland, Bush did not respond to shouted questions about Musharraf. "We're obviously not going to do anything that will undermine the war on terror. That's not in our best interests," Johndroe said.

The top U.S. diplomat said she had not spoken directly with Musharraf since his announcement Saturday to suspend the constitution, oust the country's top judge and deploy troops to fight what he called rising Islamic extremism. She has decried those "extraconstitutional" moves.

"I'm disappointed in his decision, sure," Rice said. "I think his decision sets Pakistan back in the considerable progress it made toward democratic change."

The Center for Strategic and International Studies reported in August that less than 10 percent of the U.S. aid total since 2001 has gone to economic and social projects.

Rice cited such assistance, particularly for education, when she told reporters that the U.S. has looked beyond Musharraf and made a choice to support what had seemed to be an increasingly democratic nation at a critical time.

"The United States did not put all its chips on Musharraf," Rice said.

Yet that is precisely what the U.S. under Bush has done, asserted Delaware Senator Joe Biden, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"This administration has a Musharraf policy, not a Pakistani policy. It's tied to Musharraf. ... Its hands are pretty well tied right now. And it's put itself in a very difficult position, and in turn us in a difficult position," said Biden, a 2008 presidential candidate.

Republican Senator Arlen Specter said Bush should speak out forcefully. "We have bolstered Musharraf with billions of dollars in recent years, and military support, and we ought to be specific that it's not going to continue," the senator said.

"I wouldn't support Pakistan with U.S. aid here. He's doing everything which is against democracy. Seizing the Supreme Court is just outlandish. What he's done is declared himself the dictator," Specter said. "And he hasn't been helping us enough on terrorism, so that I think we ought to get very tough with him and try to drive him into line."

Freezing military aid is worth considering, added Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein.

Yet after Musharraf imposed a state of emergency, a Pentagon spokesman traveling with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Asia said the declaration "does not impact our military support of Pakistan" or its efforts in fighting terrorism.

Like the United States, Britain is weighing whether to reconsider the substantial aid it has pledged to the South Asian nation. A Foreign Office spokesman said Britain would "consider the implications of the situation for our development and other programs in Pakistan." He spoke anonymously in line with department policy.

The review cited by Rice would look in part at whether some current aid cannot continue because of U.S. legal restrictions that set conditions for governments to receive money. That probably would cover only a small amount of the total aid, which now runs to about $150 million (euro103.6 million) each month.

The U.S. has been a leading supplier of military aid to Pakistan since suspending penalties against the country in recognition of its support in the fight against terrorism after the 2001 attacks. Washington had placed the restrictions in 1990 after the discovery of Pakistan's program to develop nuclear weapons.

Biden said he believes Musharraf's military is in firm control of the country's nuclear arsenal and does not think that is a cause for concern now.

Several lawmakers expressed concern about the possibility that extremists could find their way to power -- and then control that arsenal.

Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd, also a 2008 White House hopeful, faulted the U.S. administration "for loading up Musharraf with too much for him to probably carry" after shifting focus from Afghanistan to Iraq.

Dodd said the U.S. needs to work with Musharraf "to find out how we can move from the position he has put himself in today to a more open process here that allows for possibly a coalition government to emerge."

He added, "We had better do it aggressively. We had better start re-shifting our emphasis here or we are going to find ourselves in a much larger problem than exists already."

A top Republican presidential candidate, Fred Thompson, said the U.S. must "play hardball" with Musharraf, including a potential aid cutoff. Yet such action, he said, must take into account the realization that Musharraf "is an ally in a very sparsely populated place as far as allies are concerned."

Biden appeared on "Face the Nation" on CBS, Thompson on "Meet the Press" on NBC and Feinstein, Specter and Dodd on "Late Edition" on CNN.