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Bush to visit India, Pakistan in March

"I'm really looking forward to going to your country," Bush told Aziz in front of reporters at the White House on Tuesday.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2006 10:15 IST

President George W Bush has expressed his desire to visit India and Pakistan in March during his "wide ranging discussion" with Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in Washington.

"I'm really looking forward to going to your country," Bush told Aziz in front of reporters at the White House on Tuesday.

"I will be travelling to India and Pakistan in March, and I want to thank you for your invitation and your hospitality in advance," he said.

The announcement was expected, as the President has made no secret of his desire to go to the region.

Welcoming the President to his country, Aziz said, "We think that this is an important visit for building our relations further between our two countries and serving the cause of peace in the world."

However, Bush's trip to the subcontinent is in the planning stages and the White House is not likely to release the dates or the itinerary for some time. Official sources said President Bush will have a full agenda for his talks, starting with the war on terrorism.

Bush said he was pleased that the United States was able to contribute to reconstruction and recovery efforts following the devastating earthquake that hit Pakistan and South Asia in October last year.

With Aziz by his side, Bush said it was "hard to imagine the devastation" suffered by the Pakistanis.

"The country lost 75,000 people. Four million people were made homeless," he said adding, "I was very pleased that the United States, our taxpayers, our military, could contribute to helping the people of Pakistan recover."

In his remarks, Aziz thanked President Bush warmly for the help rendered to his country after the earthquake.

He made mention of the Chinook helicopters, the hospitals and the engineers provided by the US and the financial assistance given by the American private sector.

On the discussions he had with President Bush, the Pakistani leader said, "Our discussions today have covered a host of economic, trade and investment issues. We are keen to expand that. Pakistan is a growing economy and we would welcome US investment."

"We have a lot of challenges in our region. We want resolution of all disputes, including Kashmir. We discussed Afghanistan. We are against nuclear proliferation and we want to fight terrorism in all its forms and manifestations."

"Our coalition with the United States in the fight against terrorism is very important. The President, the people of Pakistan, the cabinet are looking forward to your visit," Aziz told Bush.

In the public comments after their meeting, both President Bush and Aziz stressed their joint commitment to fight the threat from the terrorists.

Bush praised their anti-terror alliance. "I think the relationship with Pakistan is a vital relationship for the United States and I want to thank the Prime minister and thank the President (of Pakistan) for working closely with us on a variety of issues," he said.

Both the leaders, however, avoided any reference to the recent US missile attack against reported Al-Qaeda targets in a village in eastern Pakistan that took at least 18 lives.

The attack touched off demonstrations across Pakistan and Aziz complained in New York and in Washington that his government was not notified in advance.

But, in his comments to reporters at the White House, he downplayed differences between Islamabad and Washington.

"Our coalition with the United States in fighting terrorism is very important to all of the world and all of civil society," Aziz said.

Bush and Aziz's meeting lasted nearly two hours and included talks in the Oval Office and the executive residence.

Meanwhile, White House press secretary Scott McClellan refused to disclose what Bush said privately about the attack.

At the White House briefing when a reporter asked whether the visiting Prime Minister raised objections or concerns with the President on Tuesday and what did President Bush say in response, McClellan said, "Prime Minister Aziz talked about this a little bit earlier.

The two leaders had a very good discussion. They talked about how we're working together in the war on terrorism and how it's important to continue working together. They talked about continuing to work to improve cooperation and coordination."

He said that both the leaders also focused "on our ongoing efforts to defeat Al-Qaeda and to prevent attacks from happening, both against Pakistan and against the United States."

However, Aziz said representatives of the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan would discuss the attack and specifics about improving communication at a meeting in the next few days.

"That's the appropriate forum to discuss those issues," he added.

First Published: Jan 24, 2006 23:08 IST