CAMP DAVID, Md. – President Bush said Monday the U.S. and Pakistan, if armed with good intelligence, can track and kill al-Qaida leaders. He stopped short of saying whether he would ask the Pakistani president before dispatching U.S. troops into that nation.
While Bush hails Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf as a trusted ally against terrorism, Pakistan has objected to the United States taking any unilateral action within its borders.
Bush also said he thinks Iran is playing a destabilizing role in neighboring Afghanistan, where the Taliban have staged a comeback.
“I would be very cautious about whether or not the Iranian influence in Afghanistan is a positive force,” Bush said at the Camp David presidential retreat after a two-day meeting with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.
Though Karzai says Iran is playing a helpful role in his country, he admits security has deteriorated during the past two years. Along with other nations’ forces, more than 23,500 U.S. troops are fighting the Taliban, who regrouped after a U.S.-led force toppled their government in 2001.
Democrats have accused the Bush administration of taking its eye off Afghanistan to focus on Iraq.
Pakistani officials have grown increasingly annoyed at recent claims from Washington and U.S. presidential candidates that al-Qaida has been allowed to regroup in the tribal area.
In Islamabad on Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Tasnim Aslam said there are no al-Qaida or Taliban safe havens in Pakistan. “Our position is that if there are any terrorist elements hiding in our tribal areas, it is for the security forces of Pakistan to take action against these elements,” he said.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other top administration officials joined Bush at the wooded retreat for his meeting with Karzai, who plans to sit down with Musharraf on Aug. 9. The two leaders talked privately in a cabin for about an hour before attending a larger meeting of the delegations. Security and a record poppy crop in Afghanistan topped the agenda.