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US Seeks to Boost 'Moderate Center' in Pakistani Politics


The United States said Thursday it wants to see the "moderate center" of Pakistani politics strengthened in the face of the challenge by Islamic extremists. But the State Department says any political deal making is for Pakistanis to decide. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here say the United States is talking to all parties in the Pakistani political scene, including the President, General Pervez Musharraf, and exiled opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, a former prime minister.

However they are declining comment on whether U.S. officials may be advocating a unity deal between the two political figures, saying any such arrangements are for Pakistanis to decide.

The comments follow a New York Times report Thursday that the Bush administration has been "quietly prodding" President Musharraf to share power with Ms. Bhutto, his longtime political rival, in order to broaden the base of the troubled Islamabad government.

In a talk with reporters, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack acknowledged U.S. contacts with Ms. Bhutto, who was in New York this week, as well as President Musharraf. But he said it is not the United States' role to prescribe solutions for Pakistan's political problems.

"Any decisions about political deals, political arrangements within the Pakistani political system, are going to be made by Pakistanis and the individuals involved in any discussions that may be ongoing," he said. "We do believe it is in the interests of continuing the kinds of political reforms that you have seen General Musharraf implement, to see the moderate center of Pakistani politics strengthened, as a way to address any extremist elements within Pakistan."

There were similar comments in Islamabad from the State Department's chief South Asia diplomat Richard Boucher who met this week with Mr. Musharraf and other government officials.

Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, said deals between Pakistan's political leaders were "their own choices to make, based on their own calculations."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to Mr. Musharraf in a telephone conversation last week in which it is widely reported that she discouraged the Pakistan President from invoking emergency powers, a move that aides to the President had said was being considered. The New York Times reported that Rice discussed the idea of power sharing during the call.

The newspaper also said Ms. Bhutto has held talks in recent weeks with senior Bush administration officials, including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad.

Ms. Bhutto told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York Wednesday that negotiations with President Musharraf on her return to Pakistan are lagging, but that she still plans to go back later this year.

Reports from Pakistan say her opposition party stands to win the largest share of the vote in parliamentary elections in October, provided there are no restrictions on participation.

The Bush administration has said the polling should be free, fair and open, and that if Mr. Musharraf seeks election to a new term in office, he should resign his dual post as army chief.

In her New York comments, Ms. Bhutto blamed Mr. Musharraf's military rule for the rise of Islamic extremism in Pakistan, saying his government has been unaccountable, undemocratic and disconnected from ordinary people in the country

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