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US Defense Chief Says Coming Weeks Could Determine US Future With Musharraf


U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says developments in Pakistan in the coming weeks will determine whether Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf can continue to be a U.S. partner in the global war on terrorism. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

At a news conference, Secretary Gates would not be drawn into a discussion of whether any other Pakistani politician might be a better counter-terrorism partner than President Musharraf. But he indicated that U.S. patience with the Pakistani leader's declaration of a state of emergency is not unlimited, even though a senior State Department official has called Musharraf an "indispensable" ally.

"His ability to continue to be a partner in the war on terror very much depends on how developments unfold over the next few weeks in Pakistan," said Robert Gates.

President Musharraf, who is also a general and chief of the Pakistani army, has placed thousands of political opponents in jail, put opposition leaders under house arrest, closed some newspapers and taken other steps to limit freedoms, in what he calls necessary measures to protect democracy. He has promised elections by January, but he has not said whether he will lift the state of emergency before the voting.

Secretary Gates indicated Thursday that decisions Musharraf makes in the coming weeks could determine how closely the United States will work with him, even if he stays in power.

"He needs to move beyond the emergency measures as quickly, I think, "he said. "Our view is he needs to step out of his Army Chief of Staff role and become a civilian. But I think it will really depend on how developments unfold."

Secretary Gates also reported that a review of U.S. military aid to Pakistan concluded that none of the aid must be suspended immediately due to the state of emergency. He says those who have called for a reduction of U.S. aid may be over estimating the United States' ability to influence events in Pakistan.

U.S. officials say cooperation with Pakistani forces along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border continues, and the substantial flow of supplies through Pakistan for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan has not been affected. But Secretary Gates' comments suggest at least some of that could change if President Musharraf continues to defy U.S. calls for him to step down from his army role and end the state of emergency.

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