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Bush praises Pakistani leader after meeting

Musharraf, left, and Bush answer reporters' questions after their meeting Wednesday.
Musharraf, left, and Bush answer reporters' questions after their meeting Wednesday.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Promising closer ties between the United States and Pakistan, President Bush on Wednesday hailed Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, as a leader of "great courage and vision" and praised him for his assistance in the U.S.-led war on terrorism.

Bush cited a stronger relationship in the areas of trade and investment, and vowed to help "improve education and economic opportunities for all Pakistanis."

He also said his administration will work to "facilitate meaningful dialogue" between Pakistan and India to ease tensions, including a dispute over Kashmir. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since 1947 over Kashmir.

"The forces of history have accelerated the growth of friendship between the United States and Pakistan," Bush said.

Musharraf reiterated his government's support for the United States in its battle against terrorism and called on the Bush administration to play a "constructive role" in resolving tensions with India. He spoke of a "massive and aggressive deployment of Indian forces" on Pakistan's borders.

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Tensions between the two nuclear neighbors deteriorated after a December attack on India's Parliament that killed 14 people, including the five attackers.

"We reject terrorism in all its forms and manifestations anywhere in the world," Musharraf said. "We will continue to fulfill our responsibilities flowing from our commitment."

The Bush administration has had kind words for Musharraf, who turned his back on the toppled Taliban regime in Afghanistan and allowed U.S. forces to use Pakistani military bases for logistical and humanitarian purposes.

In return, the administration has already lifted economic sanctions against Pakistan, provided aid and agreed to restructure some debt.

Musharraf was expected to ask for even more help from the United States, particularly economic aid. While his actions have won applause in Washington, they have angered Muslim fundamentalists in his own country.

Turning to the kidnapping of U.S. reporter Daniel Pearl, Musharraf said he is "reasonably sure" Pearl is still alive and hoped to secure the man's release.

Akbar Ahmed, a professor of international relations and Islamic studies at American University and a former Pakistani ambassador to Britain, told CNN Wednesday that Musharraf's visit is "highly symbolic."

Ahmed said the visit "sends out a message both to critics and to supporters that he has the backing of America."




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