PERTH, Australia – Pakistan needs to do more to prevent Taliban militants from launching attacks into Afghanistan from its territory, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday, echoing earlier remarks made by the chief of NATO.
Speaking in Australia, Rice suggested to reporters that a surge in Taliban-related violence in Afghanistan had its source in the restive semiautonomous tribal areas along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan.
"We understand that it's difficult, we understand that the northwest frontier area is difficult, but militants cannot be allowed to organize there and to plan there and to engage across the border," Rice said. "So yes, more needs to be done."
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called Thursday for Pakistan to be more involved in tackling extremist bases on its soil.
Scheffer made the remarks as he visited Kabul amid increasing tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan over violence, including the bombing of the Indian embassy earlier this month that Pakistan has directly blamed on its neighbor's intelligence agency.
"I cannot think of anyone who would consider it acceptable that many terrorists from all over the world gather in a certain area and create mischief and havoc there," Scheffer told reporters, referencing militant bases in Pakistan.
"The bottom line is that the present situation cannot be acceptable for anyone," Scheffer told reporters after talks with President Hamid Karzai.
The strong message to Islamabad comes just a few days before Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani is to meet U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House.
The Pakistani government has consistently said it will not allow its soil to be used for terrorism or to launch attacks in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has also strongly resisted suggestions that U.S. or other foreign troops should be allowed into the region to combat the militants. Gilani is seeking peace deals with militants through tribal elders in the northwestern regions of Pakistan.
Rice received strong support Friday from Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, who described the border region as "the current international hotbed of terrorism."
He said the threat posed by terrorists who may be hiding in the region was too great to leave Afghanistan and Pakistan to deal with alone.
"We are very concerned about the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area," Smith said. "We don't believe that can be regarded simply as a bilateral matter between Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is an issue which has regional and international community consequences."
Australia has about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan, the largest deployment of any country outside the NATO alliance.
While Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's new government withdrew its combat forces from Iraq last month, it says it has no plans to draw down its troops in Afghanistan. Smith said Australia had no plans to increase its troop numbers there, either.
Rice was also asked whether there was hope that current peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians could come to fruition before Bush leaves the White House at the end of his second term late this year.
"There is still time for them to, in accordance with Annapolis, reach agreement by the end of the year," Rice said, referring to the city in Maryland where the initial peace accord was reached. "We will keep working toward that goal."
Talks between the two sides renewed last year after a seven-year breakdown. Among the thorny issues being discussed is the formation of a Palestinian state. Palestinians want the final deal to outline a Palestinian state that includes most of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
A potential new hurdle to the talks arose Thursday, when a key planning committee approved construction of a new Israeli settlement in the West Bank — the first in a decade.
While the plan still needs the approval of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and final authorization from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the decision infuriated Palestinians, who say settlement building cripples peace efforts.
Rice is to sit down with senior negotiators from each side next week in Washington for so-called trilateral talks.
"The important thing right now is to take note of how seriously they are negotiating, to note that there was not even last year a peace process at this time, and to recognize that since this president came to office, the notion of two states living side-by-side in peace and security has become common wisdom," Rice said.
She also reiterated the Bush administration's desire to close the prison at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba, where about 270 terrorism suspects still are being held — another flash point for international critics of the U.S. war on terror.
"Guantanamo is a detention center that ... we would very much like to close," Rice said. "The problem of course is that there are dangerous people there who cannot be returned and put among innocent populations."
"We are hopeful that there will be the beginnings of the military tribunals for people who are there," she said. "But let's not forget that a lot of innocent people have died at the hands of terrorists. We must do everything that we can within our obligations legally and in terms of our treaty obligations to prevent that from ever happening again."
Rice was making a brief visit Friday to the Western Australian state capital of Perth at the invitation of Smith, who lives there. She was to travel later Friday to Auckland, New Zealand, for talks with Prime Minister Helen Clark.
The Associated Press and AFP contributed to this report.