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Rice meets with Pakistani leader, pushes democratic reforms

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday brought the Bush administration's push for democracy to Pakistan, where Gen. Pervez Musharraf has been a welcome ally against Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terrorist network but has proved hesitant to surrender power he took in a coup in 1999.

In a brief recap of a three-hour meeting between Rice and Musharraf, which included dinner, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Rice "expressed our firm support for steady movement along a path to free and fair elections in 2007."

He offered no information on what assurances, if any, Musharraf had given Rice about a transition to democracy. In December, Musharraf announced that he wouldn't give up his position as army chief as expected under a 2004 deadline.

Boucher also gave little information on whether Musharraf had offered to provide U.S. officials with more details about the nuclear network run by A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, who's admitted that he sold nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Iraq. Pakistan has declined to allow U.S. intelligence officers to interview Khan.

"On the subject of nonproliferation, they both emphasized the importance of our continuing cooperation to uproot the entire A.Q. Khan network," Boucher said.

The Bush administration's relationship with Musharraf underscores the difficulty the United States faces in pressing for greater democracy in countries that are key allies in the war on terrorism.

Musharraf is credited with cutting off extremists in Pakistan and working with the United States to track down members of al-Qaida and the former Taliban government of Afghanistan. Boucher said Rice thanked the Pakistani president for his "excellent support" in the war on terrorism.

But Musharraf has put off moves toward democracy and has taken few measures against Khan, who put together a "one-stop shop" of front companies and middlemen through which nuclear technology, know-how and even the blueprints for a bomb were transferred to other governments.

Musharraf pardoned Khan and allowed him to keep his wealth. U.S. and U.N. officials are still working to identify who else in Pakistan might have been involved and whether the network supplied other countries as well.

Boucher said Rice and Musharraf also discussed Pakistan's defense needs, including the possibility that the United States might provide it with F-16 fighter jets.

Earlier in New Delhi, Rice told Indian officials the United States opposes their plan to buy natural gas from Iran.

Rice said the United States wanted to help India meet its burgeoning energy needs, but that a proposed $4 billion gas pipeline from Iran through Pakistan to India would thwart efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

She said the United States might be able to help with new technologies in the decades ahead.

Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh said India didn't share Washington's worries that Iran would try to get around international monitors and develop nuclear weapons.

Singh also said peace talks with Pakistan, with which India has fought three wars since 1947, were "progressing satisfactorily."

He said India looked forward to welcoming Musharraf to India soon to watch the two countries play a cricket match, the most popular sport in both countries.

Rice, a big sports fan, quipped at a news conference with Singh that she promised him she would "even try to understand cricket. That will help."

"I will try to understand baseball," Singh replied.

Rice and Singh praised recent improvements in U.S.-Indian relations. Singh said new cooperation was planned on high technology, civil aviation and defense.

"Both governments will encourage their business communities to be more aggressive in exploiting opportunities and challenges," Singh said.

Rice called India a "vibrant and wonderful democracy" that's taking on a greater role in global affairs, noting that it quickly dispatched ships for humanitarian relief after the catastrophic tsunami Dec. 26. Rice said relations with India had just started to realize their "great potential."

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh accepted an invitation from President Bush, conveyed by Rice, to visit Washington in July. Bush has said he hopes to visit India this year.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Pervez Musharraf

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