Rice Sees 'Good Way Forward' After Pakistan Election

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Pakistan's election of a new president Saturday was a positive sign for the civilian government of the U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism.

Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of slain former leader Benazir Bhutto, won a landslide victory to take over from Pervez Musharraf as head of state.

"I'm looking forward to working with him," Rice told reporters as he flew from Tunisia to Algeria during a trop to North Africa.

Zardari, already head of the main ruling party, helped lead the coalition that forced Musharraf to quit as head of the nuclear-armed Muslim nation of more than 160 million people. Musharraf, a former general and army head, had seized power nine years ago in a military coup.

"Obviously the civilian government of Pakistan is something we have welcomed after the free and fair election and now with a new president I think we have a good way forward," Rice said. "I've been impressed by some of the things he has said about the challenges that Pakistan faces, about the centrality of fighting terrorism, about the fact that the terrorism fight is Pakistan's fight and also his very strong words of friendship and alliance with the United States."

Zardari comes into office at a time when the Bush administration is pressuring Pakistan to eradicate Taliban and al-Qaida havens near its border with Afghanistan.

Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House, said President Bush looks forward to working with Zardari, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and other government officials on bilateral issues, including counterterrorism and making sure Pakistan has a stable and secure economy.

Zardari wed Bhutto in an arranged marriage in 1987. Many Pakistanis call him "Mr. 10 Percent," a reference to accusations he pocketed commissions on government contracts during her two terms as prime minister. After Bhutto was killed last year, Zardari returned from exile, took control of her party and led it to victory in the February elections.