US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice offered an unstinting endorsement of Pakistan's military leader, a key ally in the fight against terrorism, and said the world expects to see Pakistan hold democratic elections next year.
"There has to be, the world expects there to be, democratic, free and fair elections in Pakistan in 2007," Rice said on Monday, en route to a meeting on Tuesday with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
Musharraf seized power in a bloodless military coup in 1999 and has refused to give up his Army uniform.
Rice also plans to meet Thursday with counterparts from the Group of Eight industrialized nations in Moscow, where the topic is expected to be Iran's disputed nuclear programme.
Musharraf became an unlikely ally of the Bush administration following the Sept. 11 attacks, when he pledged cooperation against terrorists who passed easily between Pakistan and the Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan.
"Pakistan has come an enormously long way in a period of four years, an enormously long way," Rice said during a news conference aboard her plane.
"We are fortunate there too that you have a leadership that is committed to putting Pakistan on a course toward moderation rather than a course toward extremism."
Rice had even stronger praise for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has criticised Pakistan for not doing enough to go after terrorists along the mountainous border between the two nations.