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US Cautious on Pakistan Border Deal

The United States said Wednesday it is taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the peace agreement between the Pakistani government and pro-Taleban militants in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. Pakistan agreed Tuesday to withdraw forces in the area in return for a pledge from tribal leaders to stop attacks across the border.

The United States strongly supported military efforts by Pakistan since 2001 in the remote tribal region to curb al-Qaida activity and halt raids into Afghanistan by Taleban remnants.

But even though Tuesday's agreement will mean a Pakistani troop withdrawal in the North Waziristan area, it is not drawing any U.S. criticism, with officials here saying they hope tribal chiefs will live up to their commitments to curb attacks.

Under the accord aimed at ending clashes between government forces and tribal groups, local militia leaders agreed to expel foreign extremists by themselves and help end attacks into Afghanistan.

In exchange, the Pakistani government released more than 100 prisoners from the tribal areas and will end security operations, withdrawing troops to specified cantonments.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf briefed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the impending deal during her last visit to Pakistan in June, and that U.S. officials were kept informed as the deal progressed.

McCormack stressed that the accord is a sovereign decision by Pakistan, which the United States hopes will achieve an objective that is in both countries' interests:

"The Pakistani government has an interest in this agreement working," he said. "And so we have every expectation that they will work to implement it in good faith. And we all share the same result, the same objective: that that area is not allowed to be a safe-haven for terrorists."

McCormack said despite the planned move into cantonments, Pakistani forces will still be available to take action as necessary, and that Pakistani officials have specifically said they will continue to hunt senior al-Qaeda figures.

At the White House, spokesman Tony Snow said it is simply not true that the agreement would allow Osama bin Laden or other al-Qaida figures to operate in the tribal region.

Many Taleban and al-Qaida extremists escaped from Afghanistan into the tribal areas after the U.S.-led Afghan invasion in 2001.

The Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly complained that the Taleban has used the Pakistani border area as a base for attacks.

Spokesman McCormack called it very positive that the Afghan leader and President Musharraf had met Wednesday in Kabul and agreed to seek an end to the mistrust between them.