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Pakistan PM to visit Bush in July

US President George W Bush and Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will in July 28 talks in Washington discuss stepping up efforts against Islamists along the Afghan border, US officials said.

world Updated: Jul 03, 2008 22:28 IST

US President George W Bush and Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani will in July 28 talks in Washington discuss stepping up efforts against Islamists along the Afghan border, US officials said Thursday.

Bush and Gilani will look at "ways to further advance bilateral cooperation with Pakistan on a broad range of issues, including counterterrorism, economic development, and regional cooperation," the White House said.

"The US-Pakistan strategic partnership is grounded firmly in the shared objectives of promoting democracy and combating extremism," Bush spokeswoman Dana Perino said in a statement announcing the visit.

Gilani's visit, his first to Washington since Pakistan's new government gelled in March, will "further deepen the multifaceted cooperation between the two countries," said Pakistan foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq.

The prime minister and Bush -- who has warned it is "probably true" that the next major terrorist strike on the United States is being planned along the Afghan-Pakistan border -- previously met May 18 in Egypt.

"You can bet there will be discussion about the hunt for Al-Qaeda," including terrorist chief Osama bin Laden, believed to be in a lawless remote region along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, a senior US official said.

Bush also wants to discuss the situation in Pakistan's federally administered tribal areas (FATA), which Washington fears are becoming de facto safe havens for Al-Qaeda, the official said on condition of anonymity.

The president will take up "the FATA, from a security standpoint, but also from the point of view of what we are doing to help them economically," the official said.

The meeting also comes amid US concerns about escalating tensions between Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan over cross-border violence.

"We will, as always, encourage them to have good relations with their neighbors, including Afghanistan and India," said the anonymous US official.

Some US observers suggest that the meeting shows the Bush administration easing its past ironclad support for Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, long a staunch "war on terrorism" ally of Washington.

News of the visit came as Pakistani security forces pursued a days-old, US-praised offensive against suspected Islamist militants in the troubled Khyber tribal district bordering Afghanistan.

US-led and NATO forces in June suffered their deadliest month in Afghanistan since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban Islamist militia, as Bush pledged to send more troops there by 2009.

The Pakistani operation was the first by the new government since it began talks with Taliban militants after winning elections in February, although officials said the targeted rebel leader, Mangal Bagh, had no direct links to the Taliban.

"The ultimate goal is to restore the writ of the government," the chief of the paramilitary Frontier Corps force, Mohammad Alam Khattak, told reporters in Peshawar.

Separately, top Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, accused by authorities of orchestrating the assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto in December, said he was halting talks with the authorities.

"We are suspending peace talks with the government because the government is constantly using force against us," Mehsud told AFP by satellite telephone from his stronghold in the South Waziristan tribal district.

Pakistan's talks with Taliban and other Islamist insurgents have caused concerns in the United States and other NATO nations with troops across the border in Afghanistan, where attacks are on the rise.