|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 22, 2004
Press Background Briefing to Travel Pool by a Senior Administration Official
Waldorf Astoria Hotel
New York, New York
8:43 A.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We just finished the bilateral meeting --
Q What are the terms here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Senior Administration Official, on background.
We just finished the bilateral meeting with President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. It started about 7:40 a.m. and ran for about -- almost an hour. And of course the President and President Musharraf have spoken and met many times since 9/11, when President Musharraf made the very bold decision to side against terrorists and against the Taliban and extremists.
In this meeting the two leaders talked quite a bit about the global war on terror, in all its dimensions. The President was particularly interested in President Musharraf's report on the efforts of Pakistan's forces to root out extremists, Taliban, al Qaeda, particularly in two of the five remote provinces of Pakistan, Wazuristan -- North Wazuristan and South Wazuristan.
Q Would you mind spelling that, if you know?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: W-a-z-u-r-i-s-t-a-n. President Musharraf gave some explanation of what the forces of Pakistan are doing. They've suffered in this offensive somewhere between 190 or 200 casualties. But --
Q What time frame?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In the current offensive, past few months.
Q Two hundred to 900 was the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One hundred ninety to 200 casualties of Pakistan's forces. But they have taken out some important al Qaeda and extremist elements. They have gone into this region, it's the first major offensive, really, since the British tried to go in over a hundred years ago. It's a very remote area. And this is where many of the key leaders of al Qaeda and Taliban command are hiding and it's General Musharraf's assessment, and I think we agree, that they're keeping these terrorist elements on their back heel and taking the fight right to their headquarters. But it's a tough, remote territory and --
Q Is this the area northwest, in the mountainous regions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's right. The Northwest Frontier is the name of a province, but it's that area.
Q Do you think bin Laden is there?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Don't know, but very possibly. And the Pakistan forces have -- you know, we've cooperated very closely with them and they've done very well. The President expressed his appreciation for that and condolences for the losses they've suffered.
They talked also about the India-Pakistan dialogue. And the President, of course, met yesterday with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, and is always interested in hearing an assessment from both leaders -- Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf -- on how things are going. And this is a new government in India and they've just started picking up their line of discussion with the government of Pakistan, but the early signals are good. There are very tough problems, like Kashmir, that are still not resolved. But early CBN efforts and dialogue between the foreign ministers have been important, and President Musharraf will see Prime Minister Singh while he's in New York. He's met him before, but this is his first meeting with him as the Prime Minister of India and President of Pakistan.
Q I'm sorry, "CBN" is?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, confidence building measures. So they've talked about various rail links and relaxing visas so that Pakistanis can visit India more easily.
The interesting thing that both Prime Minister Singh and President Musharraf pointed out to the President is that the Prime Minister of India was born in what is now Pakistan, and President Musharraf was born in what is now India. And President Musharraf told the story of how Pakistan has taken the school where Manmohan Singh studied as a child and named it after him and invited peace activists from India to come and visit. So these sort of gestures are very encouraging, but the underlying issues of Kashmir and so forth are going to take some -- clearly take some time.
Q Does President Musharraf have a take on the situation in Iraq? Any counsel or thoughts for President Bush?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, not in any detail. Actually, they spent much of the time talking about President Musharraf's concept of what he calls "enlightened moderation." He has -- he's written in The Washington Post, actually, he published an article I guess about two months ago on this concept, and it's something that Pakistan, working with other secular enlightened Muslim states, like Malaysia, for example, or Turkey, have brought into the Organization of Islamic Conferences -- and the notion, what they're after is trying to have enlightened scholars interpret Islam, because Islam is a religion that should be timeless, that should be adopted to the times. And the problem with the extremists is that many of these more extreme mullahs are trying to return to the fourth caliphate, you know, trying to move time, the clock back two centuries.
So he talked a bit about that. And in that context, the two leaders also talked about -- and the President talked about his interest in Pakistan's efforts at domestic reform of the economy, moving forward with democratic institutions and the democratic process as part of this overall concept of enlightened moderation and development.
That's largely it. Oh, I'm sorry, they talked about proliferation, the -- you all know about A.Q. Khan and the A.Q. Khan network, this scientist in Pakistan who headed the nuclear labs, who was under the table passing stuff around. And we appreciate, and the President expressed his appreciation, for Pakistan's cooperation. We always want to get as much information as we can out of this and roll up the proliferation network. And President Musharraf reiterated that they have -- Pakistan has an interest in this, too, and we're working together, closely, to glean all the information we can and make sure this network is totally rolled up.
Q Did President Musharraf say one way or the other whether he will allow U.S. government officials to interview Mr. Khan?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He didn't, but he said that any info --
Q Did the President reiterate the U.S. request to have FBI or other agents interview them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. That's the kind of discussion usually that would be handled between the FBI or the intelligence agencies. The main discussion between President Bush and President Musharraf was about the overall principle that we want to share every bit of information we have. And President Musharraf, without going into those details, assured the President that any and all information will be shared with us in a seamless way --
Q So no mention at all of the fact that Pakistan has denied U.S. request for access to Mr. Khan.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It didn't come up.
Q Did North Korea come up?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It didn't. But one of the more interesting aspects of the Khan network is his connection, both direct and indirect, to the North Korean program. And we've gotten some information and hope to get more. But that's not a specific topic that the two talked about.
Q Did Bush lean on Musharraf to relinquish his military title by the end of the year?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, they had a more general discussion about the importance of enlightened moderation and the President's support for the process of reform and democracy in Pakistan as part of that --
Q Okay --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- Iran is part of that vision, part of President Musharraf's vision.
Q Just one other quick follow up. You said they want to roll up what's left of A.Q. Khan. What's left?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we don't know for sure. I mean, there's this Tahir piece in Malaysia, and then -- you know, with Pakistan's cooperation and with the information gleaned from interrogation of A.Q. Khan, we've pulled up the roots of this pretty well, but it's sort of like weeding -- there's a sense there could be more out there. So a lot of it is making sure that something doesn't grow again where there was -- where we've pulled out the roots.
Q Did either leader bring up bin Laden by name?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. They talked about the series of terrorist leaders who threaten both Pakistan, the United States and most of the neighborhood.
Q And did Musharraf give an update on the search, for bin laden, specifically?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, did Musharraf?
Q For bin Laden, specifically.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not -- in a general sense, because the operations by Pakistan's forces in Wazuristan are putting pressure on a whole host of Taliban and al Qaeda leadership, including, for example, Uzbeki or other terrorist leaders who have tried to use that as sanctuary. So it's sort of a nest that could include bin Laden, certainly includes a lot of leadership from Taliban and from al Qaeda. Already, there have been some -- they've bagged some people.
But in terms of saying --
Q Are we any closer or anything like that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Can't say with certainty. But there is -- there is the confidence that comes from this being the first time that military forces -- in this case, the government of Pakistan -- have been able to operate in that area and take the fight in. a good part of this, for the government of Pakistan, is also development and building roads and schools and winning hearts and minds.
Q That area is the two regions you mentioned?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: South and North Wazuristan.
Q When did the Pakistani operation begin in South and North Wazuristan?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: About -- and I'm sorry, I don't want to steer you wrong, because it's been a long three days, the dates are not going to be precise -- but about a year ago they made a first foray. It turned out that this nest of terrorists was a lot tougher than expected. They've gone back in, in the past few months in a much more deliberate way, with much -- with more forces, with more air support, with improved intelligence, in particular by their own network of agents in the territories; and so they've gone in, in a very deliberate way. And with a real motive, because, you know, there have been two assassination attempts on President Musharraf; there was an assassination attempt on the Prime Minister, the new Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz. And while the pawns who conducted the bombings were killed or caught, and they have the planners in one or two cases, the masterminds, the Pakistani government is quite certain is in this area.
So President Musharraf and the government of Pakistan have a very real motive to go in there and get these guys, because they're not only a threat to the U.S. and other countries -- to Afghanistan, to President Kharzi -- they're a very real threat to the leadership of Pakistan.
Q Did they talk about security in Afghanistan?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They did. In fact, briefly, they had a meeting yesterday with President Kharzai, a trilateral meeting, where they talked about the elections. And they touched on it briefly and reaffirmed that both Presidents -- President Bush and President Musharraf -- are fully committed to making sure that the elections in Afghanistan go well.
Q What is the timeframe that President Musharraf is putting on this operation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He didn't. He didn't. The weather probably affects the tempo of operations, because that's a very mountainous region -- but he didn't talk in specific terms about the time line.
Q Did he mention in any way the elections either in Afghanistan or in the United States?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This did not come up in much detail. But this is a long-term -- this isn't a sort of raid by the forces of Pakistan. This is a long-term commitment to trying to root out terrorism using not only the military, but also civilian agents and, as I said, school building and road construction and really trying to bring that part of Pakistan into the society.
Q Was there any mention at all of either the Afghan elections or the U.S. elections?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. The Afghan elections, again, President Musharraf has helped with out of country voting so that Afghan citizens in Pakistan can vote and can participate in the election, which was logistically, you know, a big step, but very important for the success of the election. And President Musharraf reiterated that.
I'm going to pass on our election. These leaders are always interested in how it's going, but -- you know what the Hatch Act is? (Laughter.)
Q But the Hatch Act does not -- it only affects your political activities, it does not affect your ability to answer a question about the discussion --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Wow, you --
Q I do know a little bit about the Hatch Act. (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All the leaders, frankly -- from Singh to Koizumi to Musharraf -- they're all curious how it's going.
Q So they would all raise it in a general sense with the President?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. Right. But I'm going to leave it at that. They're all politicians. They're all politicians, and at one time or another they all have their own elections, or their own congresses or their own parliaments. And it's something that, you know, when these heads of state get together, it's one thing -- whether they're English-speaking, or Japanese-speaking, Christian, Muslim -- it's one thing they all have in common, is that they have to deal with elections and parliaments and they always, in my experience, talk about it.
Q You said they've captured some important figures. Can you -- are they al Qaeda, Taliban? Can you characterize them in any way?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Uzbeki leaders, some Taliban, some al Qaeda. But the very top guys are still at large.
Have to go -- sorry.
END 8:57 A.M. EDT