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Bush, Zardari to grapple with terror in maiden talks

world Updated: Sep 23, 2008 08:42 IST
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US President George W Bush was set to hold his first face-to-face talks with Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari on Tuesday amid strained ties between the key allies in the "war on terror."

The meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly will take place against the bloody backdrop of a weekend suicide bomb blast at the Marriott hotel in Pakistan's capital Islamabad which left at least 60 people dead and more than 260 wounded.

Zardari "will apprise him of the blast as part of the discussions on joint efforts to wage the war on terror," Pakistani spokesman Nadeem Kiani told AFP.

Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani as well as their country's military top brass, according to a Pakistani official, also narrowly escaped the blast as they were due to have dinner at the hotel on the night it was bombed but switched venue at the last minute.

As the Pakistani president arrived in New York Monday, the UN Security Council condemned the deadly truck bombing and stressed that those responsible must be brought to justice.

A non-binding statement issued after a council meeting condemned "in the strongest terms the terrorist attack" and underlined "the need to bring perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of this reprehensible act of terrorism to justice."

Bush had also condemned the blast, blamed on Al-Qaeda, which masterminded the September 11, 2001 attacks, and the Taliban.

Both the groups have reportedly sought sanctuary in tribal areas in Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan, using it as a staging ground for attacks on international troops helping Kabul contain the insurgency.

Bush reiterated Washington's support in the fight against terrorism in tribal areas in a telephone call to Zardari after he was sworn into office on September 9 to take over from Pervez Musharraf.

But The New York Times reported recently that Bush secretly approved orders in June allowing US forces in Afghanistan to conduct ground operations in Pakistan without Islamabad's prior approval.

Drones apparently operated by US troops from Afghanistan also constantly strike militant targets in the tribal border areas of northwest Pakistan.

But Pakistan insists civilians were killed in the raids, warning that such actions could boomerang as people in the area could help militants.

Zardari said in a US television interview broadcast Monday that Pakistan's military was better able to track down and capture terrorists along its lawless border with Afghanistan than US forces.

"Give us the intelligence, and we will do the job," he said in an interview with NBC recorded at the weekend. "It's far better done by our forces than yours."

The White House expected a "good meeting" between the two leaders.

"We will remain committed to working with Pakistan, and President Zardari has said the same, that he wants to work with us, as well. So I think we'll have a good meeting," said spokeswoman Dana Perino.

On tensions in the relationship, she said, "They know that they need to do more and do a better job, and that we're going to be there to support them.

"But we also recognize their sovereignty," Perino said.

The Bush-Zardari talks come ahead of a meeting between the US leader and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai in Washington on Thursday.

Bush recently announced that he was increasing the number of US troops in Afghanistan amid increasing casualties among coalition troops fighting the resurgent Taliban militia.

There are about 70,000 international forces deployed under NATO and a separate US-led coalition in Afghanistan in an effort to help local forces repel the Islamist rebels.

US Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, the top military adviser to US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, said he has commissioned "a new, more comprehensive military strategy for the region that covers both sides of that border" between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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