ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistan promised full support Saturday to any international reply to the terrorist attacks in the United States _ effectively pledging its soil and airspace to an assault on neighboring Afghanistan.
At Camp David, Md., Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed gratitude for Pakistan's willingness to cooperate in any military action the United States may take in the region. Osama bin Laden, identified as a suspect in Tuesday's airborne attacks on New York and Washington, has operated in Afghanistan.
``I especially want to thank the president and the people of Pakistan for the support that they have offered and their willingness to assist us in whatever might be required in that part of the world, as we determine who these perpetrators are,'' Powell said Saturday.
Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar chose his words carefully while announcing the decision at a news conference in the Pakistani capital, aware of hard-line Islamic groups at home who are staunchly anti-American and strongly behind Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia.
He emphasized the international nature of any retaliatory strike and refused to give specifics of what its support might entail.
``We have reached a consensus on the policy of giving full support to the world community in combating international terrorism,'' Sattar told reporters following a four-hour meeting of the Cabinet and the more powerful National Security Council, headed by the president and army chief Pervez Musharraf.
Pakistani diplomatic and military officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said Pakistan had agreed to the full list of U.S. demands for a possible attack on Afghanistan, including a multinational force to be based within its borders. They also Pakistan has sought assurances from the United States that any ground force would be multinational.
Pakistan also agreed to close its border with Afghanistan _ a measure taken by Iran on Saturday _ as well as allowing its airspace to be used for possible strikes and cooperating in intelligence gathering, the officials said.
Pakistan's Cabinet meeting began with a minute of silence for those who were killed in the airborne assault on New York and Washington, Sattar said.
Afghanistan, which shares a 1,560-mile border with Pakistan, is believed to be harboring bin Laden, a millionaire Saudi exile. The Taliban have refused to surrender bin Laden to U.S. authorities.
For Pakistan, the decision to give its full support was a difficult one that is certain to stir passions among radical Muslim elements at home.
While most of Pakistan's 140 million people are devout but relatively moderate Muslims, there are several strong militant Islamic groups operating in the country and tens of thousands of religious schools that turn out young boys dedicated to jihad _ holy war.
These militant groups, most of whom are well-armed, have sharply criticized Pakistan's involvement in an assault on Afghanistan.
Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, the largest group battling Indian troops in Indian Kashmir, called it murder.
``It will be killing our Muslim brothers,'' said Yahya Mujahed, chief of the organization headquartered in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore.
Also on Saturday, the Taliban's Ambassador in Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, said the Taliban would declare war on any country that assisted in an assault on Afghanistan. He threatened to send Taliban troops across the border if the country is a neighbor _ though he did not name Pakistan specifically.
Among the requests being made of Pakistan by the United States is a promise to seal its borders with Afghanistan and cooperate in intelligence gathering.
Sattar said that security along its border with Afghanistan has been increased, and meetings have been held with the Taliban officials.
``Pakistan has taken certain precautions in view of the tense situation. We have increasing vigilance on our borders. We do not want our borders violated by anyone,'' he said.