WASHINGTON - President Bush has met at the White House with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. The talks took place at a time of rising tensions on the Pakistan-Afghan border.
The Bush administration wants the Pakistanis to do more to confront extremists and terrorists that have flourished along the Pakistani side of the border.
But at the same time, Washington does not want to alienate Pakistan’s government.
And so in his public statement following the talks with Prime Minister Gilani, President Bush chose his words carefully.
“Pakistan is a strong ally and a vibrant democracy. The United States supports the democracy and supports the sovereignty of Pakistan,” he said.
He referred to Pakistan as a friend while, at the same time, warning of the terrorist threat.
“We talked about the common threat we face: extremists who are very dangerous people. We talked about the need for us to make sure the Afghan border is as secure as possible. Pakistan has made a very strong commitment to that,” he said.
Mr. Bush made no direct mention of reports of a possible U.S. connection to a missile strike earlier in the day near the Afghan border that killed at least six people.
NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan have denied carrying out the attack. But the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has operated drones in the region. And officials in Pakistan say missiles hit a house next to a religious school, and indicate an al-Qaida weapons expert is among the dead.
Prime Minister Gilani also avoided any direct mention of the missile attack, but stressed his country is committed to the war on terror.
“This is our own war. This is a war against Pakistan. And we will fight for our own path. I lost my own leader - Benazir Bhutto - because of the militants,” he said.
The prime minister went on to stress that most Pakistanis want to cooperate with the United States in combating terrorism, and militants in his country represent a tiny minority.
U.S. and Afghan officials say fighters from Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime have found safe havens in the remote tribal areas of northern Pakistan. Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden is also believed to be hiding in the region.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino says while the top leadership has not been captured, al-Qaida has been weakened.
“That is due to the efforts of the Pakistanis working with us on counter-terrorism efforts,” she said.
At a White House briefing for reporters, Perino announced the United States will be providing $115 million in food aid to Pakistan during the next two years. About a third of the money, $42.5 million, will be available over the next six to nine months.
Source: VOA News