- The Washington Times - Friday, May 1, 2009

President Obama will host the presidents of Afghanistan and Pakistan Wednesday at the White House in a “trilateral dialogue” his administration hopes will help bring stability to the region.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Friday that Mr. Obama will follow the meeting with Presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan with separate discussion with each.

Mr. Obama, in a press conference earlier this week marking 100 days in office, seemed to be more alarmed by the unraveling security of Pakistan — a nuclear-armed country — than the continuing U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.

“I am gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan not because I think that they’re immediately going to be overrun and the Taliban would take over in Pakistan,” he said. “[I am] more concerned that the civilian government there right now is very fragile and don’t [sic] seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services — schools, health care, rule of law, a judicial system that works for the majority of people.”

Mr. Gibbs said the meeting, which had been anticipated and follows similar trilateral sessions under the previous U.S. administration, was meant “to raise the level of the dialogue, accelerate the process of cooperation between the two countries, and implement the new strategy formulated by the United States.”

The U.S. strategy, unveiled in March, includes sending 21,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan for a total of about 70,000 and giving Pakistan $1 billion in emergency aid and $1.5 billion a year in economic aid annually for five years.

“The president looks forward to discussing with these two democratically elected leaders how we can work together to enhance our cooperation in this important part of the world, as the United States implements a new strategy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Mr. Gibbs said. He added that delegations from Afghanistan and Pakistan will be in the nation’s capital on Wednesday and Thursday.

The announcement comes as the administration is considering expediting the aid to Pakistan, where Taliban militants have made dramatic territorial gains and approached the capital, Islamabad, before a government counteroffensive. A senior Obama administration official told reporters in Washington earlier this week that he is “very worried” about Pakistan and that the administration would support breaking a funding request for that country out of a supplemental that includes Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I’m more concerned about Pakistan and I know the president shares that concern,” the official said.

The official said part of the worry is because there is a generation of Pakistani military officers that have not been engaged with the United States military for a decade.

“All of this is a work in progress and we’re doing that as we go,” the official said.

The official said members of Congress who recently visited the region “came back alarmed at what they saw and what they heard and wanted to fast-track the money to help get these things started.”

Besides the Afghan and Pakistani presidents, Mr. Obama will meet Israeli President Shimon Peres of Israel at the White House on Tuesday. On Monday, he will attend a Cinco de Mayo event at the White House and on Thursday, he will sign a proclamation recognizing the National Day of Prayer.

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