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Armitage Says United States Wants Expanded Relationship with Pakistan

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage says Washington wants to further strengthen ties with Pakistan - a key anti-terrorism ally. Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad, where Mr. Armitage held what he termed "wide-ranging" discussions with leaders in Pakistan.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage met President Pervez Musharraf and other senior Pakistani officials Tuesday and touched on a host of global and bilateral issues.

Speaking to state-run Pakistani television, Mr. Armitage says the United States is looking to accelerate its interaction with Pakistan.

"We want to have a relationship with Pakistan that's political, that's economic," he said. "We would certainly want to continue our excellent cooperation with the military and we want to develop more of a cultural exchange with Pakistan."

Pakistan is a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism and has received significant economic and political support from the Bush administration.

It sees the re-election of President Bush as ensuring continuity in Islamabad's ties with Washington. Pakistani officials also have said bilateral ties should not be confined to cooperation in the war on terrorism only.

Mr. Armitage also praised Pakistan for enhanced border security to prevent Islamic militants from crossing the border and disrupting last month's presidential election in neighboring Afghanistan.

"What we all witnessed in the election on October 9 was a tribute to the men and women of Afghanistan and, frankly, a tribute to Pakistan who was so helpful in bringing about that election," he said.

Pakistani officials say they briefed the U.S. diplomat on progress in the peace dialogue between India and Pakistan.

Mr. Armitage says the United States supports the peace process and welcomes President Musharraf's recent proposals to settle the long-running Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan.

"I was very interested in the proposals that President Musharraf made and it looked to me that he was being very forward thinking," he said. "And I think he has caused a great deal of thinking both in India and here in Pakistan about the way forward."

President Musharraf has proposed that India and Pakistan soften their traditional positions on Kashmir and demilitarize parts of the region to pave the way for a meaningful discussion to solve the dispute.