- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2008

President Bush on Monday reassured Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that the United States will respect the sovereignty of his nation, an apparent dig at Sen. Barack Obama, who has vowed to attack inside Pakistan with or without approval from the Pakistani government.

The leaders met as intelligence officials said they were investigating if a senior al Qaeda chemical and biological weapons expert was killed in a missile attack in a Pakistani village on the border with Afghanistan on Monday.

Praising the new prime minister for his commitment to their joint battle against terrorists and extremists, the president made clear that official U.S. policy would defer to Pakistani leaders on any actionable intelligence about al Qaeda.

“The U.S., I repeat, respects the sovereignty of this democracy. And we also appreciate the prime minister’s strong words against the extremists and terrorists who not only would do us harm but have harmed people inside - in Pakistan,” Mr. Bush said on the South Lawn of the White House.

Mr. Gilani, who now wields more control in Pakistan after the disputed re-election of President Pervez Musharraf, vowed to continue “to fight against those extremists and terrorists who are destroying and making the world not safe,” and also specifically mentioned sovereignty in the four-minute joint statements.

“I appreciate what he has said about supporting democracy, supporting sovereignty,” he said. “This is our own war; this is a war which is against Pakistan. And we’ll fight for our own past.”

Mr. Gilani’s party’s former ruling leader, Benazir Bhutto, was killed in a terrorist attack in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on Dec. 27.

Mr. Gilani said there are a “few militants - they are hand-picked people, militants, who are disturbing this peace. And I assured Mr. President we’ll work together for democracy and for the prosperity and peace of the world.”

Mr. Bush’s reassurance comes almost a year to the day after the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee declared he would, if elected, approve U.S. military strikes within Pakistan without the permission of the government in Islamabad.

“If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and President Musharraf won’t act, we will,” Mr. Obama said on Aug. 1, 2007.

“As president, I would make the hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Pakistan conditional, and I would make our conditions clear: Pakistan must make substantial progress in closing down the training camps, evicting foreign fighters and preventing the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan,” he said.

The camp of Republican presidential aspirant Sen. John McCain also took aim at Mr. Obama.

“We must do whatever is necessary to eliminate the threat from terrorists on either side of the Afghan-Pakistan border, but Senator Obama’s inexperience has led to continued insistence on making public threats about violating Pakistani sovereignty that are obviously counterproductive and do nothing to improve cooperation from Pakistan,” said McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds.

At the White House, neither the president nor Mr. Gilani addressed the latest clash in Pakistan on Monday, which Pakistan´s army said may have killed Abu Khabab al-Masri, described by Washington as an expert who trained terrorists in the use of poisons and explosives. The U.S. has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.

Details about the strike, including who was responsible and who was targeted, remained murky. But the incident earlier Monday followed a series of strikes - some contend by the United States - in recent months against militant leaders holed up in Pakistan’s tribal belt.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said on Monday that the two leaders talked mainly about counterterrorism, particularly about how the United States can help provide training for the Pakistani military. But they also discussed Pakistan’s economic plight, with Mr. Bush offering $115 million over two years in food aid, the spokesman said.

This story is based in part on wire service dispatches.

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