- The Washington Times - Monday, August 6, 2007

(AP) — President Bush said today that with the right intelligence U.S. and Pakistan governments can take out al Qaeda leaders, and wouldn’t say whether he would consult first with Pakistan before ordering U.S. forces to act on their own.

“With real actionable intelligence, we will get the job done,” Mr. Bush said.

He was asked whether he would wait on permission from Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf before committing the U.S. military to move on “actionable intelligence” on the whereabouts of terrorist leaders in Pakistan. He did not answer directly.

Mr. Bush was at the presidential retreat at Camp David for two days of meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The two held talks on a rash of crises confronting Afghanistan: civilian killings, a booming drug trade and the brazen resurgence of the Taliban.

Mr. Karzai said that he and Gen. Musharraf would discuss how to tackle the problem of lawlessness and hideouts for extremists along Pakistan’s border area with his country.

Afghanistan has a distrustful relationship with neighboring Pakistan, yet top tribal leaders from both countries are expected to meet this week to try to lessen tensions. Gen. Musharraf and Mr. Karzai are likely to attend, with Mr. Karzai sure to bring up his concern about the flow of foreign fighters into his country from Pakistan.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Karzai put a positive spin on Afghanistan’s progress since the 2001 defeat of the repressive Taliban, but they stressed that serious problems remain.

“There is still work to be done, don’t get me wrong,” Mr. Bush said. “But progress is being made, Mr. President, and we’re proud of you.”

Mr. Karzai acknowledged a resurgent Taliban but said it is not a threat to his government. Mr. Karzai is Afghanistan’s first democratically elected president.

“We have a long journey ahead of us but what we have traveled so far has given us greater hope for a better future, for a better life,” Mr. Karzai said at a joint news conference at with Mr. Bush.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Karzai differed noticeably in their views about Iran’s influence in Afghanistan.

Mr. Karzai had said in advance of his visit to Camp David that Iran is a partner in the fight against terrorism and narcotics. “So far, Iran has been a helper,” he said over the weekend.

Mr. Bush didn’t agree. “I would be very cautious about whether or not the Iranian influence there in Afghanistan is a positive force,” he said.

U.S. officials contend that Tehran is fomenting violence in Afghanistan by sending in weaponry such as sophisticated roadside bombs. More broadly, Mr. Bush said Iran thumbs its nose at the international community and denies its citizens the rights they deserve.

The issue of a theoretical U.S. military incursion into Pakistan is a sensitive one. Mr. Bush has said before that he would order the U.S. to act inside the Muslim-majority country if there were firm intelligence on the whereabouts of Osama bin-Laden or other terrorist leaders.

Bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is believed to be living in the tribal border region of Pakistan. His ability to avoid capture remains a major source of frustration for U.S.-led forces.

But Gen. Musharraf has objected to any unilateral action by Washington.

Over the weekend, Defense Secretary Robert Gates was equally careful in describing how U.S. officials would handle such a situation.

“I think we would not act without telling Musharraf what we were planning to do,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Mr. Bush said the leaders spent “more than a fair amount of time” talking about the fact that Afghanistan now accounts for 95 percent of the world’s poppy production used to make heroin.

Profits from the drug trade are aiding the Taliban. Aggressive counter-drug proposals by some U.S. officials — including tying development aid to benchmarks such as mandatory poppy field destruction — have met fierce resistance.

“He knows full well that the United States is watching, measuring and trying to help,” the president said of Mr. Karzai.

For his part, Mr. Karzai said his government in Kabul is “committed to fighting it because this evil is first hurting us.”

As he always does, Mr. Bush spoke of Mr. Karzai with admiration, calling him a personal friend.

The two have met regularly, including sessions at the White House in each of the last five years. This is the first time Mr. Bush has welcomed Mr. Karzai to his getaway in the Catoctin Mountains of Western Maryland, where an invitation alone signals the president’s commitment to a foreign leader.

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