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U.S. not pressing Pakistan on terror envoy PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 30 March 2008

REUTERS, KARACHI - U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte rejected on Thursday suggestions that the United States was trying to dictate anti-terrorism policy to Pakistan's new government.

Negroponte and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher arrived on Tuesday, shortly before Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani was sworn in to lead a government set on re-thinking Pakistan's approach in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

The timing of their visit has angered many Pakistanis who see it as an attempt to influence the new government and shore up old U.S. ally President Pervez Musharraf, increasingly isolated since his allies lost a February election.

"There was no hidden agenda and certainly no desire to interfere or intervene in any way in the political arrangements that are developing," Negroponte told a news conference in Karachi, adding his trip had been planned for six or eight weeks.

"The suggestion that somehow we expect Pakistan to carry out activities on our behalf and at our behest that are not in Pakistan's interests is simply wrong."

Leaders of the new coalition government, led by the parties of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, have spoken of the need for talks with militants based in remote mountains on the Afghan border.

That has apparently rung alarm bells in Washington and raised the prospect of Pakistani support ebbing.

Pakistani newspapers criticised the visit by the two U.S. officials and said the United States should give the new government time to work out its strategy.

The Dawn newspaper said the trip had been made in "indecent haste" and "was not in keeping with diplomatic propriety".

Negroponte held talks with Musharraf as well as Gilani and other leaders of the new government as well as Pakistan's army chief.

"IRRECONCILABLE ELEMENTS"

Gilani, a senior official in Bhutto's party, assured the U.S. envoys of Pakistan's resolve to tackle terrorism.

But he also called for a "comprehensive approach" on terror involving political means and economic help for tribal regions on the Afghan border, where militants have found refuge and Osama bin Laden is believed to be based.

He also said parliament would be making the decisions.

Negroponte said in his talks he had encountered no doubts about the threat militants posed.

"There was a lot of common ground there and there's common understanding that this is an issue that's got to be dealt with in a multi-faceted way," he said
Asked about calls for talks with militants, Negroponte said there was no single solution.

"Security measures, obviously, are necessary when one is talking about dealing with irreconcilable elements who want to destroy our very way of life. I don't see how you can talk with those kind of people," he said.

"On the other hand, there are reconcilable elements in any of these situations who hopefully can be persuaded to participate in the democratic political process."

The Washington Post said on Thursday the United States had escalated air strikes on al Qaeda fighters in Pakistan's tribal areas to inflict as much damage as it could because Musharraf might not be able to offer much more help and Islamabad's support could slip.

Over the past two months, U.S.-controlled Predator aircraft had struck three sites used by al Qaeda operatives, killing about 45 Arab, Afghan and other foreign fighters, it said.

Musharraf's support for the U.S.-led campaign against terrorism is unpopular with many Pakistanis who object to U.S. attacks inside the country.

Asked about the report, Negroponte said it contained "misinformation and incorrect facts".

"We want to deal with the issue of militant extremism and other problems that we confront in a mutually agreeable way," he said. "These problems, if they're going to be dealt with on a sustainable basis, must be dealt with on a basis of partnership."

He said the question of the future of Musharraf, who is expected to face efforts to unseat him, was an internal matter and the United States would respect any decision.

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