- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said yesterday that his country remained committed to the war against terror despite his government’s strong comments about the recent U.S. air strike on Pakistan’s territory that left 18 dead.

During a visit to Washington, Mr. Aziz said he preferred not to discuss the air strike intended to kill top al Qaeda operatives believed to be hiding in a remote border region — at least not until he had completed his talks with U.S. officials.

“I just had one meeting with Secretary [of Defense Donald H.] Rumsfeld,” Mr. Aziz told a gathering at the Heritage Foundation. “When I’m done, I can certainly share it with you.”

Mr. Aziz is also expected to meet with President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other top administration officials.

Mr. Rumsfeld said they had discussed a “great deal” about their important relationship but declined to go into details.

The prime minister, who has criticized Washington’s failure to inform his government of the Jan. 13 attack, insisted that Pakistan was “committed to working together with all countries to fight terrorism.”

He also played down last week’s demonstrations across Pakistan condemning the American violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty. They were, he said, part of the normal expressions of protest in a democratic country.

Mr. Aziz underlined his country’s role as “an anchor of regional peace and stability,” with strong trade and political ties to China, India, Iran, Afghanistan and the United States.

“Historical experience shows wherever we have cooperated it has served the interests of both nations,” he said. “I’m sure my current visit and the forthcoming visit of President Bush to our region will take our relationship to a higher plane.”

Members of Mr. Aziz’s delegation complained yesterday that they had been treated as regular visitors, rather than government officials, and searched at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York before boarding Mr. Aziz’s plane to fly to Washington.

“We are on a diplomatic visit, and this is not the way to deal with guests,” said State Minister for Overseas Pakistanis Tariq Azeem.

Those searched included Cabinet ministers and members of Parliament, but not Mr. Aziz, officials said.

The Pakistani Embassy in Washington played down the issue, saying that was a normal procedure, and even Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, was searched when he was presidential candidate in 2004.

“So nothing has gone wrong,” one embassy official said.

Muzamal Suherwardy contributed to this report.

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