President Bush says Pakistan is playing an important role in the war on terrorism, and could serve as a model for other Muslim nations. Mr. Bush spoke at the conclusion of talks with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
The rare Saturday morning meeting in the Oval Office was originally planned as a courtesy call, a chance for President Musharraf to congratulate President Bush on his re-election. Instead, there were substantive issues on the table, and the Pakistani leader, who has been calling for a greater U.S. role in the Middle East, left with assurances from President Bush.
"I assured President Musharraf that there is an opportunity at hand to work toward the development of a Palestinian state and peace in the Middle East," said president Bush. "I told him this will be a priority of my administration."
President Musharraf has stressed that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is crucial to Muslims and the war on terrorism. He told reporters it was the most important issue they discussed.
"I'm grateful for the extreme understanding that the president has shown towards the concerns of Pakistan," said General Musharraf.
A senior administration official said the session had a full agenda that ranged from combating terrorism to trade. He said the search for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was discussed, and downplayed concerns that Pakistani forces are being moved from certain border areas with Afghanistan. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said these troops are being redeployed further north to continue the hunt for terrorists.
When asked about the matter, President Bush spoke of the sacrifices already made by the Pakistani military, and offered no criticism of efforts by the Pakistani government to seek out the man believed responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
"The president has been a determined leader to bring to justice, not only people like Osama bin Laden, but to bring to justice those who would inflict harm and pain on his own people," said President Bush.
President Bush also rejected the notion that the Pakistani-American relationship has become one-sided, and that Pakistan is not getting enough in return for its help in the war on terrorism.
"I don't view relations as one where there is a scorecard that says, if we all fight terror together, then somebody owes somebody something," he said. "This is a world in which co-operation is essential. And mutual cooperation is really essential between Pakistan and the United States."
Mr. Bush said Pakistan can be a model for other Muslim countries, as they seek to move toward democracy. He made no mention of President Musharraf's efforts to retain his role as armed forces chief. But a senior official said Pakistan already has many democratic institutions. This official said the Pakistani leader has made clear he is prepared to go all the way in bringing true democracy to his country.
General Musharraf took power in a bloodless 1999 coup, and was later elected president by referendum.
He came to Washington after talks in Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. His next stop is Britain where he will consult with Prime Minister Tony Blair.