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President Bush meets with Pakistan Prime Minister to discuss wide range of issues


US President George Bush met with Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz at the White House (Tuesday). Both leaders agreed to continue working closely to defeat terrorism but did not publicly comment on the deadly US airstrikes that killed at least 18 people in Northern Pakistan. The Unites States says the strike targeted members of Al Qaida, and was based on intelligence reports.

President Bush and Prime Minister Aziz met for nearly two hours at the White House, discussing a wide range of topics from bilateral trade to what both leaders described as the vital and strategic relationship between the two countries.

Of the meeting Prime Minister Aziz commented, "The United States and Pakistan have a multifaceted relationship, covering a host of areas. It goes back to history, and the people of Pakistan value the relationship very much."

President Bush added, "And I want to thank the Prime Minister, and thank the President for working closely with us on a variety of issues."

But the visit comes at a strained time in US-Pakistan relations, as anti American rallies in Pakistan entered their second week.

Pakistani demonstrators have expressed outrage over the January 13th airstrike in Northern Pakistan, which killed at least 18 people, including women and children.

Pakistani opposition parties have condemned the attacks. Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the head of the United Action Front called Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf an "American slave."

"We have demanded that the Pervez Musharraf government should resign, we have demanded from the American government that they should offer an apology in unequivocal terms."

The missile attacks destroyed three houses in the remote village of Damadola near the Afghan border but apparently missed their intended target, Osama bin Laden's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Pakistani officials had been critical of the attacks, but President Musharraf appeared to soften the tone this week when he said intelligence reports suggested at least four top Al-Qaida operatives were killed.

Mr. Aziz told the Associated Press that he and President Bush agreed that better communication between the allies was necessary, although he said they did not agree on specifics.

Mr. Aziz said the dialogue would continue in March when President Bush visits Pakistan to discuss Pakistan's dispute with India over Kashmir and other issues.

"We want a solution of all disputes, including the Kashmir dispute. we want to see a strong Afghanistan. We are against proliferation of nuclear weapons by anybody, and we want to fight terrorism in all its forms and manifestations."

Analysts say the missile attacks may have undermined some of the goodwill generated by US relief efforts after the October earthquake in Kashmir, which killed 80,000 people.

But US State Department officials say the prospects for deepening relationships are excellent.

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