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Bush, Musharraf to Examine Economic, Defense Ties - 2003-06-24

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf is meeting with President Bush in the United States Tuesday. Senior Pakistani officials say the two leaders will focus on enhancing economic and defense cooperation as well as Pakistan's strained relations with neighboring India.

The Pakistani president aims to strengthen ties with the United States when he meets President Bush at the Camp David in Maryland later Tuesday.

Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan says that bringing U.S. investment to Pakistan and opening the U.S. market for more Pakistani products will be high on the agenda. Mr. Khan says Pakistan also wants to enhance defense cooperation with the United States.

"We would hope that there should be meaningful and significant defense cooperation between Pakistan and the United States," says Mr. Khan. "Particularly in the conventional field because there is asymmetry between India and Pakistan in the conventional spheres and we want that our capabilities in the conventional area should be strengthened."

The Bush administration says Pakistan has played a vital role in U.S. efforts to eliminate terrorist bases in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan has captured dozens of suspects linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network over the past 20 months.

The cooperation has significantly improved relations between Washington and Islamabad. The United States has extended financial assistance to cash-strapped Pakistan and lifted most of the sanctions that were imposed on Islamabad for testing nuclear weapons in 1998.

Mr. Khan says the two presidents also will focus on the recent peace initiatives by India and Pakistan. "The United States in the recent past has played a constructive role behind the scenes and they have also demonstrated overt diplomatic interest in the resolution of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute and engagement between the two countries," he says.

The 50-year old dispute over the mainly Muslim region of Kashmir has strained relations between India and Pakistan and has caused two wars.

But tensions have eased since Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee pledged in April to make a final attempt for peace in his lifetime.

Both South Asian nations have announced a series of confidence-building measures, including restoration of full diplomatic relations. But they have not indicated yet when they will open an official dialogue to try to settle their differences. India insists that Pakistan must do more to halt infiltration by Muslim militants into its part of Kashmir before talks can start. Islamabad says no such movement is taking place.

President Musharraf is on a tour of four western nations. He visited Great Britain last week and travels to Germany and France after he leaves the United States.