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Bush would send troops inside Pakistan to catch bin Laden

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- President Bush said Wednesday he would order U.S. forces to go after Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan if he received good intelligence on the fugitive al Qaeda leader's location.

"Absolutely," Bush said.

The president made the comments Wednesday in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. (Watch Bush state his position on Iran and the war on terror -- 18:06)

Although Pakistan has said it won't allow U.S. troops to operate within its territory, "we would take the action necessary to bring him to justice."

But Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, told reporters Wednesday at the United Nations that his government would oppose any U.S. action in its territory.

"We wouldn't like to allow that at all. We will do it ourselves," he said.

A January airstrike on suspected al Qaeda figures on the Pakistan border provoked protests by tens of thousands of Pakistanis and complaints by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, who said U.S. officials launched the attack without consulting his government.

Bin Laden's followers killed nearly 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. In response, the United States and its allies overthrew Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, which had allowed al Qaeda to operate within its territory -- but bin Laden slipped the U.S. noose and is believed by many to be hiding in the rugged mountains along the Afghan-Pakistani border five years later.

Pakistani authorities recently signed a peace agreement with pro-Taliban tribal leaders in the country's restive northwest after two years of clashes with the traditionally autonomous tribes that left more than 600 Pakistani troops dead. But Aziz told CNN earlier this month that top terrorist leaders like bin Laden would have "no immunity" under the agreement.

"This notion that anybody who has a record as a terrorist will get safe haven -- we would not even think of doing that," he said.

U.S. and NATO troops are now battling a Taliban resurgence in southeastern Afghanistan, and both Afghan and Pakistani officials have accused each other of not doing enough to capture pro-Taliban militants sneaking across the border.

Bush: Ahmadinejad 'knows the options before him'

Bush on Wednesday also defended his decision not to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations this week, telling CNN that Ahmadinejad "knows the options before him." (Watch President Bush explain why he takes Ahmadinejad's words seriously -- :27)

The U.N. Security Council has called on Iran to stop its uranium enrichment efforts, which the Bush administration says are aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Iran says it wants to produce fuel for civilian power plants, and it has so far refused to halt enrichment.

Bush said the United States has agreed to talks with Iran "only if they verifiably suspended their enrichment program.

"He knows the options before him. I've made that very clear," he said. "In order for there to be effective diplomacy you can't keep changing your word."

European negotiators are trying to reach an agreement with the Iranians that will stay the threat of U.N. sanctions against Iran for flouting the Security Council's demand while talks toward a permanent resolution continue. But Bush said that "time is of the essence," and he is concerned that Tehran is "trying to buy time" in the dispute.

Both Bush and Ahmadinejad addressed the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday -- Bush in the morning, Ahmadinejad in the evening.

Bush addressed the Iranian people directly during his speech, telling them that Americans "respect" their country and that they "deserve an opportunity to determine your own future.

"The greatest obstacle to this future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism and fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons," he said. "Despite what the regime tells you, we have no objection to Iran's pursuit of a truly peaceful nuclear power program."

The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic ties since 1979, when Iranian militants, who had overthrown the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Palavi, seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held American diplomats hostage for more than a year. Bush labeled Iran part of an "axis of evil" in 2002, along with Iraq -- which the United States invaded the following year -- and North Korea.

In his speech, Ahmadinejad criticized what he called the "abuse" of the Security Council by "hegemonic powers." He mentioned the United States by name only once during his speech, but criticized major powers he said "seek to rule the world relying on weapons and threats.

"All of our nuclear activities are transparent, peaceful and under the watchful eyes of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspectors," he said. "Why, then, are there objections to our legally recognized rights? Which governments object to these rights? Governments that themselves benefit from nuclear energy."

The White House said Bush did not watch the Iranian leader's speech. Asked whether he found anything encouraging in it, the president said, "Not really."

Ahmadinejad's speech was more restrained than previous addresses in which the Iranian president has questioned the existence of the Holocaust and called for the Israel's eradication.

Referring to those comments, Bush said, "My judgment is you've got to take everybody's word seriously in this world.

"You can't just hope for the best," he said. "You've got to assume that the leader, when he says that he would like to destroy Israel, means what he says. If you say, 'Well, gosh, maybe he doesn't mean it,' and you turn out to be wrong, you have not done your duty as a world leader."

The president is not the highest authority in Iran, which is an Islamic republic led by religious clerics.


President Bush on Wednesday defended his decision not to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.



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