Musharraf Warms to Israel After Gaza Pullout

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Pakistan's president on Sunday defended his recent attempts to engage Israel's government, saying most Pakistanis support his policy.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf, whose foreign minister recently met for the first time with his Israeli counterpart, said he enjoyed widespread support for the diplomatic breakthrough. Both sides have said it was the result of Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

"When we are talking to the Israelis and the Israeli foreign minister, or I address the Jewish congress, I am very clear that this is the strategic direction that Pakistan needs to take," Musharraf said on a cable news show on Sunday."The vast majority of Pakistanis, the media, the intelligentsia, the masses, have all accepted this. Nobody is questioning me at all."

Pakistani officials said Saturday that Musharraf told a visiting American Jewish leader last week that Pakistan would consider formally recognizing Israel only after the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Islamic Pakistan, which has no diplomatic ties with Israel, long has demanded that the Jewish state end its occupation of Palestinian territory, and that Jerusalem be the capital of a Palestinian state.

Musharraf also suggested Sunday that his grip on power was strong. "It's not a possibility at all" that radicals could take over Pakistan, especially in light of recent local elections, he said.

"There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that this country is a moderate country, and moderate forces have reasserted themselves, and religious forces have gone down," he said.

While Pakistan is a key supporter of the U.S.-led war that toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan, some critics have suggested that Islamabad isn't doing enough to find Al Qae

da leader Usama bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Musharraf said Pakistan's intelligence organizations were unified with the military against terrorism and trying to find bin Laden.