Pakistan strong ally, says Bush
The US Prez praised Pakistan as a close ally in fighting terror and would visit the country in March.india Updated: Jan 25, 2006 12:13 IST
President George W Bush praised Pakistan as a close ally in fighting terrorism and said on Tuesday that he would visit the country and its neighbour India in March.
Bush and Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, who met at the White House, said they were united in fighting terrorism, but they did not directly comment on a recent US airstrike in Pakistan that caused uproar.
"I think the relationship with Pakistan is a vital relationship for the United States," Bush said. "We're working closely to defeat the terrorists who would like to harm America and harm Pakistan."
The US airstrike on January 13 targeted Ayman al-Zawahri, deputy to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in the remote Bajaur tribal region along the border with Afghanistan, according to American officials.
Pakistani intelligence officials say Zawahri was not there at the time of the strike, but that at least four Al-Qaeda figures, including a bomb expert, were killed.
The attack prompted Pakistan to lodge a formal protest with Washington and sparked anti-US demonstrations in several Pakistan cities and towns.
Bush has not publicly commented on the air attack, but Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has said Washington assured Islamabad it would not act against Pakistan's interests.
Bush and Aziz showed no signs of acrimony and affirmed the two countries' close relationship in trying to combat terrorism.
"Terrorism knows no borders," Aziz said. "So our coalition with the United States in fighting terrorism is very important to all of the world and all of civil society.
"We discussed the war against terror and the need for closer communication and coordination to take this effort forward," he told reporters after meeting Bush.
"We are looking forward to President Bush's visit to Pakistan to carry this dialogue forward."
US officials believe bin Laden and Zawahri are hiding along the rugged border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
An audiotape purported to be of bin Laden that aired last week warned that al Qaeda was preparing attacks in the United States but was open to a conditional truce with Americans.
Bush and Aziz said they discussed trade, nuclear energy, defence cooperation and the response to the October 8 earthquake in Pakistan that killed about 74,000 people and left about 3 million homeless.
"A sense of caring and sharing always builds a better relationship between countries and that's what we are seeing between Pakistan and the United States," said Aziz.