- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 7, 2007

THURMONT, Md. — President Bush said yesterday that the United States and Pakistan, if armed with “actionable intelligence,” could take out al Qaeda leaders, but he did not say whether he would ask permission from the Pakistani president before sending U.S. troops into that nation.

The president also warned Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was his weekend guest at the Camp David presidential retreat, not to trust neighboring Iran, calling that nation’s leadership a “big disappointment” and vowing to intensify U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran.

While Mr. Bush hails Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as a trusted ally against terrorism, Pakistan has objected to the United States taking any unilateral action within its borders. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks, is thought to be holed up in the mountainous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, protected by tribal groups.

Asked directly if he would “wait for Musharraf’s permission” before sending troops in, Mr. Bush said: “I am confident that with actionable intelligence, we will be able to bring top al Qaeda to justice. We’re in constant communications with the Pakistan government. It’s in their interest that foreign fighters be brought to justice.

“After all, these are the same ones who were plotting to kill President Musharraf.”

While Mr. Karzai said nothing about Iran during a brief press conference yesterday on the Camp David helipad, the Afghan leader said Sunday that “so far, Iran has been a helper and a solution.”

Iran has been a supporter of Afghanistan in the peace process that we have and the fight against terror, and the fight against narcotics in Afghanistan,” he said on CNN. “It then has contributed steadily to Afghanistan. … We will continue to have good relations with Iran.”

But Mr. Bush said Tehran, which has sought to expand its nuclear weapons program, has not proven itself to be a “force for good.”

“It’s up to Iran to prove to the world that they’re a stabilizing force, as opposed to a destabilizing force,” he said. “I must tell you that this current leadership there is a big disappointment to the people of Iran. The people of Iran could be doing a lot better than they are today. But because of the actions of this government, this country is isolated. And we will continue to work to isolate it.”

The Bush administration has charged that Iran has been supporting militants in Iraq and questions whether it was sending weapons across the border to Afghanistan. William Wood, the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, said in June that “there is no question” Iranian weapons have been flooding into the country.

Meanwhile in Baghdad, U.S. and Iranian ambassadors to Iraq met yesterday for their third round of security talks in just over two months. U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker met with his counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, for about two hours after U.S., Iraqi and Iranian experts held their first talks as part of a security subcommittee. No details were released.

At Camp David, Mr. Bush and Mr. Karzai yesterday agreed that more has to be done to stem the flow of heroin out of Afghanistan, to reduce civilian casualties and to keep down the Taliban. But each praised efforts by the other to push democracy along in Afghanistan.

“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.” He noted that along with 23,500 U.S. troops, there are 26,000 troops from other nations and there are now 110,000 Afghans defending their nation.

Democrats said Mr. Bush has simply not done enough in Afghanistan.

“Despite reassuring words from the White House, it is undeniable the president has dropped the ball on the real front in the war on terror — Afghanistan,” Senate Democrats said in a statement titled, “The Forgotten War.”

For his part, Mr. Karzai thanked America for helping his nation, saying tens of thousands of children are now alive because of the United States. Still, he acknowledged that the Taliban, which regrouped after a U.S.-led force toppled their government in 2001, has made a resurgence, but he said it is not a threat to his government.

“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,” he said.

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