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Bush Meets With Pakistan's Leader

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

In Pakistan today, a missile hit a religious school near the border with Afghanistan. There are reports that six people were killed. It follows a series of U.S. missile strikes on that border region against suspected members of al-Qaida and the Taliban. These actions tend to raise tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan. Today, President Bush was hosting Pakistan's new prime minister at the White House.

And as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, neither of them made any public mention of the strike.

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MICHELE KELEMEN: This may be a tenth time in U.S.-Pakistani relations, but you would hardly know that by the public comments of both President Bush and Pakistani prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: The U.S., I repeat, respects the sovereignty of this democracy. And we also appreciate the prime minister's strong words against the extremists and terrorists.

Prime Minister YOUSUF RAZA GILANI (Pakistan): I've lost my own leader, Benazir Bhutto, because of the militants. And therefore, I assure United States and the people of United States that the majority of the people of Pakistan, they want the peace in the world and they want to cooperate. And there are few militants who are disturbing this peace.

KELEMEN: The White House announced that the U.S. will be giving Pakistan $115 million in food aid over the next two years. That seemed to be an effort to shore up relations with the new civilian leadership in Pakistan.

Brian Katulis, of the Center for American Progress and author of the book "The Prosperity Agenda," has long called for a change in the U.S. approach to Pakistan. Still, he expects that behind closed doors, the Pakistani prime minister was getting a much tougher message about the need to do more to fight extremists in the tribal areas.

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Mr. BRIAN KATULIS (Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress): The Pakistani leader comes here with a core argument saying, essentially, we need more time. And I think that the U.S. government is worried about the urgency and the need to address some of these challenges right now, particularly with the increase in violence in Afghanistan and the fact that Pakistan seems to have been used as a safe haven for many of these attacks.

KELEMEN: Katulis says the U.S. might be asking for too much, however, from a prime minister who's having trouble asserting control over the Pakistani intelligence services and the military. Another expert on the region, Stephen Cohen of the Brookings Institution, says political schisms inside Pakistan make it difficult for the U.S.

Mr. STEPHEN COHEN (Senior Fellow, The Brooking Institution): It's clear that Pakistan has a civilian government that's very concerned about rising Islamic extremism, and the Islamists were badly defeated in this last election. The problem is that the military, which really still runs much of Pakistan, is more sympathetic to these groups and does not trust the civilians.

KELEMEN: So Cohen said the Bush administration probably had a couple of goals in mind in hosting the Pakistani prime minister today.

Mr. COHEN: I think it's primarily designed to show the Pakistani people that Gilani has American support and, I would assume also, to show the Pakistan army that the military goodies will come only if the army reorients its strategy and its tactics.

KELEMEN: The U.S. did recently offer one goodie to the Pakistani army. The Bush administration asked Congress to allow Pakistan to use nearly $227 million in counterterrorism aid to upgrade its aging fleet of F-16 fighter jets.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.