Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the United States will review all forms of aid to Pakistan in the wake of General Pervez Musharraf's decision to suspend the country's constitution. From Washington, VOA's Michael Bowman reports.
Secretary Rice says she is personally disappointed with the suspension of constitutional rule in Pakistan, but added that the crisis can be defused if General Musharraf reverses his decision and recommits to holding democratic elections.
The United States has provided more than $10 billion in assistance to Pakistan since 2001, much of it destined to bolster anti-terrorism efforts. Speaking in Jerusalem, Secretary Rice seemed to preclude an immediate severance of that aid.
"We have to be very cognizant of the fact that some of the assistance that has been going to Pakistan is directly related to the [U.S.] counter-terrorism missions," said Condoleezza Rice. "So this is a complicated matter. We have to remember that we are going to continue to fight the war on terror."
The Bush administration's initial response to the Pakistani constitutional crisis was immediately criticized by leading U.S. legislators, including some within the president's own Republican Party. Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania spoke on CNN's "Late Edition" program.
"It is not enough that Secretary Rice speaks out," said Arlen Specter. "I think the President has to speak out in more specific terms. We have bolstered Musharraf with billions of dollars in military support in recent years, and we ought to be specific [in saying] that it is not going to continue."
A Democratic Party colleague, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, urged a carefully thought out and measured response to the situation in Pakistan . She specifically warned against unilateral military action by the United States in Pakistan's northern regions where terrorists are believed to operate.
General Musharraf's decision to suspend the constitution has been condemned by his political opponents, including former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who spoke in an interview broadcast on the CBS program Face the Nation.
"It is going to lead to an unnecessary confrontation between the regime and the people, which can only help the extremists who will exploit the situation to their advantage," said Benazir Bhutto. "It is very important that General Musharraf be pressed to restore the constitution, to release the political prisoners, to respect the judiciary, and hold elections under an independent election commission."
In justifying his decision, General Musharraf has said that failure to act would have amounted to "suicide" for Pakistan, and that his first duty is to act in his country's best interests.