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Bush Expresses Confidence in Pakistan's Musharraf


President Bush is expressing optimism that Pakistan will return to the path to democracy. VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson reports that in a nationally broadcast interview, Mr. Bush indicated he still has faith in Pakistan's President, Pervez Musharraf.

President Bush has called the imposition of emergency rule in Pakistan a mistake, and has urged President Musharraf to get the country back on a democratic path.

His words have been firm, but he has stopped well short of urging the Pakistani president to step down. In an interview with ABC television, Mr. Bush disputed the notion that he has put too much faith in Pervez Musharraf.

"He has been a loyal ally in fighting terrorists," said President Bush. "He has also advanced democracy in Pakistan. He has said he will take off his uniform. He has said there will be elections. Today he released prisoners. And so far I have found him to be a man of his word."

The president appeared cautiously optimistic. He refused to join in harsh criticism of President Musharraf and tried to strike a hopeful note.

"He has done more for democracy in Pakistan than any modern leader has," said Mr. Bush. "Are we happy with emergency rule? No we are not. Do I understand how important he is in fighting extremists and radicals? I do. And do I believe that he is going to end up getting Pakistan back on the road to democracy? I certainly hope so."

President Bush also spoke out during the interview about the situation in Iran, and ongoing efforts to convince Tehran to give up nuclear activities that could give Iran the ability to develop nuclear weapons.

Mr. Bush stressed his reliance on diplomacy to solve the matter, while noting the military option can never be totally discarded.

"My objective is to solve this issue diplomatically and I fully intend to and I believe we can," he said. "But diplomacy is effective when all options are available to a president. And all options are available. No one wants to use military force to achieve any objective. But it is important for all parties to understand that while I am optimistic we can solve it diplomatically, options are available to the president."

At a recent news conference, President Bush raised the specter of a nuclear armed Iran leading to World War III. In the session with ABC-News, he muted his tone just a bit. He spoke once again of Iran's right to develop nuclear power for civilian use. But he added Iran's leaders have threatened the destruction of Israel and that could lead to a much wider war.

The president made no mention of possible new talks between the United States and Iran on the security situation in Iraq. He said he takes some satisfaction in the fact the increase in U.S. troop levels in Iraq that he ordered earlier this year is finally leading to a drop in violence.

Mr. Bush made clear Iraq's future is very much on his mind as he enters the final year of his presidency.

In the interview, the president talked at some length about his possible successor. Mr. Bush refused to name a favorite for the Republican Party nomination. But he did answer a few questions about the person he thinks will be the Democratic Party nominee - Senator and former First Lady Hillary Clinton. He said she understands what it is like to live under a constant spotlight.

"I think she is a very formidable candidate," said President Bush. "And one of the interesting things she brings is that she has been under pressure... she understands the klieg lights [the television camera lights]."

The interview was conducted at Camp David, the rustic U.S. presidential retreat in the mountains of the state of Maryland, a short helicopter ride from Washington. The president will spend the next several days at Camp David, gathering with members of his family on Thursday to celebrate America's Thanksgiving Day holiday.

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