WASHINGTON – President Bush's meeting next week with Pakistan's new president comes amid a surge of cross-border operations by U.S. forces that have strained the nations' seven-year-old alliance to fight extremists.
Bush will meet Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday in New York on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, White House press secretary Dana Perino announced Thursday.
Pakistani officials said they received no advance warning about a missile strike that they claim U.S. troops launched Wednesday in northwest Pakistan. That same day, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Pakistan assuring leaders that the U.S. respected the Muslim nation's sovereignty.
The White House, which would not comment on Wednesday's strike, has long worried about Taliban and al-Qaida militants' use of Pakistan's lawless tribal regions near the Afghan border. The Bush administration says the border region is a staging area for attacks on U.S. and other forces in neighboring Afghanistan.
Pakistan insists that it is doing all it can to battle extremists. It says unilateral attacks will simply deepen tribal sympathy for militants.
After a ground assault on Sept. 3, Pakistani army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani issued a strong public rebuke to the U.S., saying Pakistan's territorial integrity "will be defended at all cost." He denyed that there was any agreement for U.S. forces to operate there, and said Pakistani troops had orders to fire on intruding forces.
Perino said that in their meeting, Bush and Zardari will discuss efforts to strengthen the bilateral relationship and build a long-term partnership. "President Zardari, who carries on the legacy of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and President Bush are expected to focus on cooperation in combating terrorism, strengthening the economy and fostering democracy in Pakistan," she said.