Bush administration officials said Tuesday U.S. contacts with Pakistan remain positive despite protests over the reported U.S. missile attack last Friday aimed at a senior al-Qaida figure. Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz says he will raise the issue in Washington talks beginning this week.
U.S. officials remain tight-lipped about the attack in a remote area of northern Pakistan along the Afghan border.
But they are rejecting the notion the United States is indifferent to the loss of innocent life in anti-terrorist operations, and they say U.S.-Pakistani contacts since the Friday incident have not been rancorous.
News reports say the missile strike, allegedly carried out by a CIA drone aircraft, targeted the number-two al-Qaida leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who had been expected to attend a dinner at the housing compound hit in the evening raid.
Local officials say al-Zawahiri did not show up at the dinner, but that as many as 18 people were killed, including several women and children. Pakistani authorities in the tribal region later said a number of foreign militants were there and that four or five were killed.
At press briefings Tuesday, spokesmen for the White House and State Department held to their refusal to discuss alleged intelligence activity, but said Pakistan has been and remains a valued ally in the anti-terrorism struggle.
State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack did not specifically address Friday's casualties but said the United States is not indifferent to the loss of life, and that is why it is waging the struggle against terrorism:
"The United States clearly values innocent human life, and that is why we are fighting the war on terror," said Mr. McCormack. "It is because we are acting against those who would take innocent lives in the name of hatred. And I would just say that acts of terror are not justified by any political cause. These are individuals that have tried to assassinate President Musharraf twice, that are responsible for the deaths of many Pakistani citizens."
The spokesman said President Pervez Musharraf understands that the greatest threat to his country's economic and democratic future comes from terrorists of al-Qaida and Taleban who are trying to destabilize the country.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, who begins a U.S. visit Wednesday, has termed the attack deeply regrettable and says he intends to raise the matter in Washington.
There have also been widespread public demonstrations over the issue in Pakistan.
Nonetheless, a senior official who spoke to reporters here said U.S. contacts with Pakistan have continued in a positive atmosphere without rancor.
The State Department's third-ranking official, Under-Secretary for Political Affairs Nicolas Burns, will be in Pakistan in a few days on a previously scheduled diplomatic mission.
Spokesman McCormack conceded the attack, and the long-standing policy of refusing to comment on intelligence matters, may have complicated Bush administration public diplomacy efforts in Pakistan.
He said all U.S. officials can do is try to explain the anti-terrorism fight, and to point out what a good friend the United States has been to Pakistan, including its response to last October's earthquake disaster which has included the commitment of more than a $500 million in aid.