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Bush Meets With New Pakistani President


President Bush has met for the first time with Pakistan's new president, Asif Ali Zardari. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from the White House the meeting came just days after a terrorist attack on an Islamabad hotel that claimed dozens of lives.

President Bush says Americans grieve with the families of those killed in the Islamabad truck bombing. He says the new Pakistani president knows from personal experience what it is like to lose a loved one to terror.

"I know that you - your heart went out to the families of those who suffer and so does the collective heart of the American people; we stand with you," said Mr. Bush.

Asif Ali Zardari is the widower of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated at a campaign rally last December. He took on a prominent political role after her death, and recently assumed the presidency after Pervez Musharraf resigned under pressure.

The Bush administration is seeking to step up cooperation with Pakistan's new leaders on combating terrorism, especially in the Pakistani tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

There have been tensions in recent days over whether or not American forces can launch cross-border operations without the prior consent of the Pakistani government.

In their public comments, both men spoke of the issue in very diplomatic terms. President Bush took note of Pakistan's concerns.

"Your words have been very strong about Pakistan's sovereign right and sovereign duty to protect your country, and the United States wants to help," he said.

President Zardari focused his remarks on the growing strength of democracy in Pakistan. He did not refer directly to the recent transition of power and the resignation of his predecessor. He spoke in broader terms, saying democracy has come full circle in his country and Pakistan is ready to move on.

"And democracy is the answer. We will solve all the problems. We have a situation. We have issues. We have got problems. But we will solve them and we will rise to the occasion," said Mr. Zardari.

President Bush's first meeting with the new Pakistani president took place in New York City, where both men are attending the U.N. General Assembly.

Mr. Bush usually has numerous bilateral meetings during his trips to the United Nations. But this year his schedule is limited.

That is in large part because many of the foreign leaders he usually meets at the General Assembly are coming to Washington after they address the world body for one last visit to the White House before President Bush leaves office.

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