Fox News - Fair & Balanced

Search Site

Bush hails Pakistan as strong ally

Monday, July 28, 2008

WASHINGTON —  President Bush on Monday praised Pakistan's new leader as a reliable partner in confronting extremism, but a missile strike on Pakistani territory raised new tensions about whether the U.S. was violating its ally's sovereignty in the hunt for terrorists.

At the White House, an upbeat Bush took a unified stand with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who was making his first White House visit since coming into power in February elections. The show of confidence meant to signal that the United States and Pakistan remain allied in their mission.

Yet hours later, Gilani suggested that if a missile strike on Monday had been orchestrated by the U.S., that would be a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.

Neither Bush nor Gilani spoke about the strike on a Pakistani border village when they addressed reporters together on the South Lawn. Intelligence officials said they were investigating reports that a senior al-Qaida figure, Abu Khabab al-Masri, was among six people killed.

Both the White House and the Pentagon declined to address possible American involvement in the strike. But it followed a series of attacks in recent months on militant leaders in Pakistan's tribal belt that are widely believed to have been conducted by the U.S. military.

In an interview with CNN, Gilani said that the strike was "certainly" a violation of sovereignty if the U.S. had acted unilaterally. He said he told Bush that both countries should do a better job of sharing intelligence so that Pakistan could fight extremists itself.

Gilani said an inquiry about the strike was under way. Pakistani troops were trying to reach the area on Monday to determine what happened.

Asked why U.S. officials were reluctant to share intelligence more fully, Gilani said, "Basically, Americans are a little impatient."

But he also emphasized strong ties with the United States in defense, education, health and other areas.

For his part, Bush, too, spoke of cooperation.

"Pakistan is a strong ally and a vibrant democracy," Bush said earlier after he and Gilani wrapped up their Oval Office meeting.

By focusing on a joint goal of defeating extremism, Bush and Gilani sought to address a relationship regarded as vital but shaky.

U.S. officials are intensifying pressure on Pakistan to act against Taliban and al-Qaida militants within its country. American troops in eastern Afghanistan are facing a spike in cross-border attacks by Taliban insurgents. U.S. airstrikes into Pakistan, aimed at militant leaders, have upset the nations' relations.

Bush twice made a point of saying he respected Pakistan's sovereignty.

"We also appreciate the prime minister's strong words against the extremists and terrorists who not only would do us harm, but have harmed people inside Pakistan," Bush said.

Gilani sought to assure the people of the United States that most Pakistanis desperately want peace, and want to cooperate. His party's former ruling leader, Benazir Bhutto, was killed in a terrorist attack on Dec. 27.

"We are committed to fight against those extremists and terrorists who are destroying and making the world not safe," Gilani said. "This is our own war; this is a war which is against Pakistan. And we'll fight for our own past. And that is because I have lost my own leader, Benazir Bhutto, because of the militants."

Since taking over from an administration dominated by U.S.-backed President Pervez Musharraf, who remains in power with less authority, Gilani's government has sought peace pacts with Taliban militants. The goal is to stabilize a country roiled by Islamist suicide attacks.

Gilani says force will be used only as a last resort.

Yet U.S. civilian and military leaders have expressed fear that the government's decision to agree to cease-fires with militants will not be enforced, and will only give extremists time to regroup. U.S. officials worry that they have gone down this road before, only to endure setbacks.

White House press secretary Dana Perino was cautious not to assign blame when pressed on whether Pakistan should take a tougher line against extremists within its borders. "The president thinks that, yes, we are working effectively together, but there's more to be done," she said.

Asked whether the relationship between the United States and Pakistan is tense, Perino said: "I think that we are much more on the same page than some people would like to paint."

The Bush-Gilani talks focused on counterterrorism, including what the U.S. can do to help train the Pakistani military. But the two leaders also discussed the broad needs of the Pakistani people and the economic health of the country.

In a joint statement between the leaders, Bush pledged $115 million in food aid to Pakistan, including $42.5 million in the next nine months. The United States also pledged help with disease control, agriculture, energy and education.

Overall, the United States has funneled more than $10 billion in mostly military aid to Pakistan in the past six years.

Gilani, who met with Bush for the first time last May in Egypt, is in the midst of a hectic three-day schedule in Washington. He is meeting with other Bush administration officials, lawmakers, academics and journalists.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



most active