WASHINGTON — Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage denied on Friday that he told a Pakistani official the U.S. would bomb Pakistan "back to the Stone Age" if it did not cooperate with Washington in the war on terror following the Sept. 11 attacks.
Armitage, in an interview with NBC News, said his remarks during the conversation were misrepresented. “I wouldn’t threaten the use of military force if I couldn’t come through with it,” he said.
Earlier Friday, with Musharraf standing at his side at the White House, President Bush said he was surprised by Musharraf's claim.
“The first I heard of it was when I read about it in the newspaper today,” Bush said. “I guess I was taken aback by the harshness of the words.”
“I don’t know of any (such) conversation,” he added.
Musharraf said he could not comment because of a contract for a book to be published on Monday.
'Be prepared to be bombed'
Within days of the Sept. 11 attacks, Armitage met with Pakistan’s intelligence director, Gen. Mahmoud Ahmad, seeking cooperation.
Musharraf, in an interview with CBS News’ magazine show “60 Minutes,” to air on Sunday, said Armitage told Ahmad that without cooperation: “Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age."
Armitage told NBC the conversation was a “strong, factual” exchange, but said he made no military threats. He said he told Ahmad “Pakistan would need to be with us or against us. For Americans, this was seen as black or white.”
What did Armitage say?
The Pakistani leader said in the interview with CBS, which distributed the Pakistani leader's comments, that he felt insulted.
“I think it was a very rude remark,” he told reporter Steve Kroft. But Musharraf said he reacted responsibly. “One has to think and take actions in the interests of the nation and that is what I did,” he said.
White House spokesperson Tony Snow said Friday that he did not know what Musharraf had been told by his intelligence chief after the talk with Armitage, but “U.S. policy was not to issue bombing threats. U.S. policy was to say to President Musharraf: ’We need you to make a choice.’”
“I don’t know,” Snow said. “This could have been a classic failure to communicate. I just don’t know.”
Relations with the Taliban
Before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Pakistan was one of the only countries in the world to maintain relations with the Taliban, which was harboring al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, and many Pakistanis were sympathetic with the neighboring Islamic state.
But within days of the attacks Musharraf cut his government’s ties to the Taliban regime and cooperated with U.S. efforts to track and capture al-Qaida and Taliban forces that sought refuge in Pakistan.
The official 9/11 commission report on the attacks and their aftermath, based largely on government documents, said U.S. national security officials focused immediately on securing Pakistani cooperation as they planned a response.
Documents showed Armitage met the Pakistani ambassador and the visiting head of Pakistan’s military intelligence service in Washington on Sept. 13 and asked Pakistan to take seven steps.
They included ending logistical support for bin Laden and giving the United States blanket overflight and landing rights for military and intelligence flights.
The report did not discuss any threat the United States may have made, but it said Musharraf agreed to all seven U.S. requests the same day.
In an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said that “we gave them a list of things we wanted Pakistan to do, which essentially required Pakistan to completely reverse its policy with respect to the Taliban.”
Musharraf “saw the wisdom in the decision he took,” Powell said.
Musharraf said in the CBS interview he was irked by U.S. demands that Pakistan turn over its border posts and bases for the U.S. military to use.
He said some demands were “ludicrous,” including one insisting he suppress domestic expression of support for terrorism against the United States. “If somebody’s expressing views, we cannot curb the expression of views,” Musharraf said.
With Taliban fighters still fighting in Afghanistan and statements by the Afghan government that Pakistan must do more to crack down on militants in its rugged border area, the issue is again a sensitive one between Islamabad and Washington.
Musharraf reacted with displeasure to comments by Bush on Wednesday that if he had firm intelligence bin Laden was in Pakistan, he would issue the order to go into that country.
“We wouldn’t like to allow that. We’d like to do that ourselves,” Musharraf told a news conference.
Musharraf’s comments came days ahead of the publication by New York-based Free Press of his memoir “In the Line of Fire.” Advance copies of the memoir have not been released to the media for review before its Monday publication.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.