Rice, Gates Say Aid To Pakistan For Counterterrorism To Continue

Monday, November 5th 2007, 8:53 am

By: News On 6

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ President Bush's top national security aides say U.S. financial backing for Pakistan's counterterrorism efforts likely will go uninterrupted despite the administration's unhappiness with President Pervev Musharraf's declaration of a state of emergency.

The White House said Bush would comment Monday on the crisis.

``The best option is for Pakistan to get back on its path to democracy,'' press secretary Dana Perino told reporters, echoing statements that administration officials had made throughout the weekend.

Discussing the problem Monday while in Ramallah, West Bank, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice exhorted Musharraf to sever his affiliation with the army and restore civilian rule.

``I want to be very clear. We believe that the best path for Pakistan is to quickly return to a constitutional path and then to hold elections,'' she said, adding that Musharraf must follow through on past promises to ``take off his uniform.''

And the Pentagon said that it was postponing a meeting scheduled for this week in Islamabad between senior U.S. and Pakistani defense officials.

Eric Edelman, defense undersecretary for policy issues, was planning to travel to Pakistan for the meeting, but ``it was thought wise to postpone this meeting until such time that all the parties can focus on the very important issues at hand,'' Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, visiting China, said Monday that the U.S. may take other steps but both he and Rice suggested the administration doesn't want to disrupt its partnership with Pakistan in fighting al-Qaida and other militants _ a relationship that dates back to the Sept. 11 attacks.

``We are reviewing all of our assistance programs, although we are mindful not to do anything that would undermine ongoing counterterrorism efforts,'' Gates said.

At the White House, Perino said Monday: ``The government of the United States is deeply disturbed by the proclamation of emergency in Pakistan. We cannot support emergency rule or the extreme measures taken during the emergency. Such actions are not in Pakistan's best interest and damage the progress Pakistan has made on its path to democracy.''

She said that Bush has not spoken to Musharraf since the Pakistani president imposed emergency rule on Saturday.

A day earlier, Rice noted that a significant portion of U.S. aid ``is directly related to the counterterrorism mission'' and said that while the aid program to Islamabad must be reviewed in the wake of the Musharraf move, ``I would be very surprised if anyone wants the president to ignore of set aside our concerns about terrorism.''

``The more quickly and the more urgently that the Pakistani leadership and President Musharraf act on their stated desire to get back to a constitutional path, it will be for the better of everyone,'' she added.

Bush has not spoken publicly about events in Pakistan, and he waved off questions shouted to him by reporters as he returned to the White House on Sunday. Officials said he may have a statement on Monday.

Over the weekend, Musharraf announced he had suspended his country's constitution, ousted the country's top judge and deployed troops to fight what he called rising Islamic extremism.

In Pakistan on Monday, legions of baton-wielding police clashed with lawyers to squash protests against Musharraf, while international pressure mounted against the imposition of emergency powers that have led to more than 1,500 arrests.

The United States has provided about $11 billion to Pakistan since 2001, when Musharraf allied his presidency with Washington after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Defense officials traveling with Gates said they did not know exactly how much of the U.S. aid to Pakistan is dedicated to counterterrorism or would be subject to any restrictions or cuts.

Rice on Sunday staunchly denied the United States has invested so heavily in Musharraf that its options are now limited. Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Joseph Biden asserted just that, saying the administration ``has a Musharraf policy, not a Pakistani policy.''

While Rice's announcement put in question some of the billions in U.S. assistance to a close terrorism-fighting ally, a Republican lawmaker urged Bush to speak out ``in more specific terms'' and suggested that Pakistan's shift from democratic, civilian rule could jeopardize U.S. military support.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies reported in August that less than 10 percent of the U.S. aid total since 2001 has gone to economic and social projects.

Rice cited such assistance, particularly for education, when she told reporters that the U.S. has looked beyond Musharraf and made a choice to support what had seemed to be an increasingly democratic nation at a critical time.

``The United States did not put all its chips on Musharraf,'' she said.

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