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US Diplomat Reafirms Ties to Pakistan in Anti-Terror Effort

15 March 2007

The top U.S. diplomat dealing with South Asia, Richard Boucher, defended Pakistan's record on the war against terrorism. Boucher announced a massive new U.S. aid package for Pakistan's restive tribal areas, where pro-Taleban militants have reportedly been gaining ground. From Islamabad VOA Correspondent Benjamin Sand has more.

Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher met Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf, capping the diplomat's two-day visit to the key U.S. ally.

Boucher was expected to deliver another tough message to the Pakistani leader.

U.S. officials are increasing the pressure on Pakistan to crack down on Taleban and al-Qaida militants thought to be operating inside the country's isolated tribal areas near the Afghan border.

But speaking to reporters, Boucher downplayed reports of a growing rift between the two countries.

"We support Pakistan," he said. "We work with Pakistan. We all want to do more and we all want to be more effective in the war on terror. We recognize what Pakistan's doing and we will continue to work with Pakistan."

This is Boucher's second visit to Pakistan in recent months and follows a similar trip by Vice President Dick Cheney in February.

A series of U.S. officials, in Pakistan and during congressional testimony in Washington, have accused Pakistan of falling short in the fight against regional extremists.

Boucher did publicly question a controversial peace agreement General Musharraf signed with tribal militants along the Afghan border. The U.S. diplomat said the deal has not stopped extremist attacks against civilians on either side of the border.

The tribal area remains a top diplomatic priority for the United States and Boucher underscored Washington's commitment to helping Pakistan secure the region.

Boucher also announced a new five-year, $750 million aid package for the semi-autonomous tribal zone.

"This commitment to the development of Pakistan, this commitment to the long-term relationship, is another example of the very broad and deep relations that we have," he added.

Boucher also sought to ease concerns over a recent Senate bill that would restrict U.S. military aid to Pakistan.

He said the president remained opposed to the effort, which is still not final and has not been submitted to the White House.

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