Pakistan PM looks to mend US ties

Pakistan's prime minister has arrived in Washington at a time of rising tension between the two allies following a US air strike that killed at least 13 civilians earlier this month.

    Pakistan-US relations have sunk since the 13 January US strike

    With thousands demonstrating regularly in Pakistan to denounce the United States, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz is scheduled to hold talks with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Monday and President George Bush on Tuesday.


    The meetings come as Pakistani officials are taking care to affirm their loyalty to America in the war on terror, despite the domestic uproar over the air strike.


    Relations between Islamabad and Washington have taken a hammering following the 13 January attack.


    The missile strike which destroyed three houses in the remote mountain hamlet of Damadola near the Afghan border apparently targeted but missed Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida's  second in command.


    Aziz on Sunday condemned the airstrike, saying such attacks should be cleared with Islamabad before they are carried out.




    Aziz (R): The understanding is
    that we will work together

    US and Pakistani officials, he said, have no understanding that allows American military forces to attack alleged terrorists in Pakistan without first consulting the government.


    "The understanding is that we will work together," Aziz told CNN's Late Edition.


    "We will work in collaboration with each other."


    Aziz said Pakistani officials were given no notice before the attack, which was believed to have been launched by a missile-firing Predator drone from Afghanistan, where about 20,000 US troops are based.


    Pakistan does not allow US forces to pursue militants across the border or launch strikes without permission.


    Pakistan, Aziz said, "has regretted and condemned the incident and said that such incidents should not reoccur. We need to work together. There is no difference in the objectives of the two countries, so there is no reason why we shouldn't communicate."


    About 5000 demonstrators assembled on Sunday on a dry riverbed in a mountain market town near the site of the strike, shouting "long live Osama bin Laden" and "Death to America". They also burned effigies of President Bush.


    Pakistani intelligence officials believe that four top al-Qaida operatives may have been killed in the strike including al-Qaida's master bomb maker, Midhat Mursi, who has a five million US bounty on his head.


    But Aziz said, "we have not found one body or one shred of evidence that these people were there," referring to suspected terrorists.


    US assured of help


    Thousands have joined anti-US
    protests following the attack

    Aziz also dismissed the notion that Pakistan was not informed in advance of the US attack, because of the view that some in the Pakistani military and intelligence community might sympathize with al-Qaida.


    "If you see the number of lives we have lost chasing these terrorists, the number of people we have picked up all over the country ... it shows that we have a very effective security apparatus," he said.


    On Sunday, Charles Schumer, Democratic Senator, defended America's use of targeted attacks on suspected terrorists.


    "They're planning to do more damage, whether it's in Europe or the Middle East or here in the United States," Schumer said on CNN.


    "What we learned is that you can't just play defence. You need a good offence and a good defence. I have no problem with doing it. I think we should."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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