WASHINGTON – President Bush praised Pakistan's prime minister on Monday for his commitment to their joint battle against extremists. But neither of the men addressed the latest clash in Pakistan, a missile strike that hit a religious school just inside its border with Afghanistan.
Bush and Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani strolled before the assembled media on the South Lawn after a private Oval Office meeting. Appearing upbeat, they sought to publicly ensure their constituencies that the U.S-Pakistan bond is tight and intact despite tensions between Washington and Islamabad.
Bush said their session was constructive, as he expected it would be. "After all," he said, "Pakistan is a strong ally and a vibrant democracy."
He added, "Of course we talked about the common threat we face, extremists who are very dangerous people."
Bush praised Gilani for leading a strong commitment to securing the border with Afghanistan. The vote of confidence came as U.S. officials have called for Pakistan to stop militants from staging cross-border attacks on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
For his part, Gilani said he wants the people of the United States to know that the vast majority of Pakistanis want peace, and want to cooperate with the United States.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said the two leaders talked mainly about counterterrorism, particularly about how the United States can help provide training for the Pakistani military. But they also discussed Pakistan's economic plight, with Bush offering $115 million over two years in food aid, Perino said.
Meanwhile, officials and state media in Pakistan said that missiles hit a religious school in a village just inside Pakistan's border, killing six people.
Details about the strike, including who was responsible and who was targeted, remained murky. But the incident earlier Monday followed a series of strikes apparently by U.S. aircraft in recent months against militant leaders holed up in Pakistan's tribal belt.
One of them killed a senior al-Qaida leader in the North Waziristan region in January.
The incidents have strained relations with Washington, particularly since the new Pakistani government took power nearly four months ago and for the most part sidelined stalwart U.S. ally Pervez Musharraf.
Pakistan has resisted suggestions that U.S. or other foreign troops should be allowed into the remote region of its country to combat militants assumed to be hiding there.
Pakistani officials say they are working to reach agreements that would require the tribes to give up their weapons, withdraw support for foreign fighters and end attacks across the border.
U.S. and Afghan officials say Taliban fighters are being sheltered in Pakistan. Militants based in Pakistani tribal areas, where Osama bin Laden and his top aide are believed to be hiding, have said they are sending fighters to Afghanistan.