Chafing under criticism that Pakistan is not doing enough to counter terrorism, President Pervez Musharraf offered Monday to construct a security fence to deter incursion of militants and drug merchants from Afghanistan.
Musharraf made the offer at a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that was expanded to 75 minutes from the 30 minutes originally planned. It sets the stage for President Bush’s meeting with the Pakistani leader on Tuesday.
“We don’t ever want anybody to say Pakistan is not doing enough,” Foreign Minister Khurshid M. Kasuri said. The minister said he was “fed up” over such allegations.
Declining to say whether Rice expressed support for the idea, Kasuri said “she heard us out” and was “very appreciative” of Pakistan’s desire to help stop infiltration from both sides of the border with Afghanistan.
Later, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, “We think it is important that Pakistan and Afghanistan take up this idea.”
“We would be pleased at some point to be part of the discussion if they think it is a good idea,” McCormack said on behalf of Rice, who flew back to Washington to attend Bush’s meeting Tuesday at the White House with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
Osama bin Laden, head of the al-Qaida terror network who has eluded U.S. and other efforts to capture him, is believed to be hiding in the border area.
‘Pakistan has nothing to hide’
Kasuri said the fence would be designed to deter infiltration in both directions, but as envisioned by the Pakistan government there would be arrangements for controlled crossings.
“Pakistan has nothing to hide,” he said. “And we are fed up with people who say Pakistan has to do more to counter terrorism.”
On Friday, Musharraf told The Associated Press that his government has proposed building a barbed-wire fence along the border to help keep Islamic insurgents from crossing the area freely. The border itself is vast, running for more than 1,500 miles.
Kasuri did not specify the form a fence would take, such as barbed wire or solid material. The route the barrier would take has not been decided, he said. Kasuri said the aim would be to screen out warlords and narcotics trade as well as terrorists.
“We have a very strong interest in peace and stability in Asia,” he said.
Rice made no statement after the meeting and there was no official U.S. reaction.
U.N. birthday gives U.S. opportunity
The assembly of more than 170 world leaders to mark the United Nations’ 60th birthday gives Rice a unique opportunity to advance U.S. foreign policy goals on several difficult fronts.
Success is by no means assured. While the United States is the largest contributor and the world’s only real superpower, it cannot count on the United Nations for automatic support.
Rice’s lobbying, and Bush’s appearance before the world body Wednesday, come at a moment when the United States is looking unusually vulnerable to foreign eyes following Hurricane Katrina’s devastation and international opposition to the war it is fighting against insurgents in Iraq.
Rice’s drive to pressure Iran to resume negotiations on its nuclear program is a key test. Any U.S. resolution in the U.N. Security Council to censure Iran or to impose sanctions runs the risk of being vetoed.
Pakistan appealed, meanwhile, for a peaceful resolution of the dispute. Kasuri said at his news conference Pakistan was a friend and neighbor of Iran.
Rice is appealing openly to China and Russia, which have veto power, to join in sending a “unified message” to Tehran.
Russia remains dubious about having the council take up the issue. On Friday, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko called it a hasty step.
Two goals in the Middle East
Rice is also trying to advance two Middle East goals: pressure Syria to keep hands off Lebanon and to spur Israel and the Palestinians to use the momentum of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza to move toward creation of a Palestinian state.
She plans to meet with Arab and European leaders on Syria as a U.N. inquiry explores whether Syria played a role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafil Hariri last February in Beirut.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has canceled plans to attend U.N. sessions.
On Mideast peacemaking, the goal of a Palestinian state already has the support of most U.N. members. Rice will meet with U.N., European and Russian officials who joined the United States in devising a blueprint or roadmap for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
On another front, U.N. reform, U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton and Rice are seeking management changes and new approaches on terrorism and human rights. The outlook is uncertain.
No consensus on reform?
McCormack said Monday there was no consensus on management reform, human rights and terrorism.
Rice met Monday with American Jewish leaders, Tanzanian Foreign Minister Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete and officials of 10 South Asian countries.
McCormack said Rice told Foreign Minister U Nyan Win of Burma, who attended the Asia meeting, that “it is important that Burma undertake both human rights and political reform. Burma is out of step.”
She also participated in a ceremony marking the signing of a pact with Georgia that extends $293.5 million in U.S. development aid over the next five years to the former Soviet republic.
Rice said 54 percent of Georgians who live outside the capital, Tbilisi, are impoverished and the money would be used to build roads, to rehabilitate a gas pipeline and to help launch small businesses.
President Mikhail Saakashvili said Georgians have always admired America and that his government has moved the country away from a corrupt past.