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Bush, Musharraf dodge questions on Osama hunt

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC
September 22, 2006 23:50 IST
Both President Bush and President Pervez Musharraf, ducked and weaved when confronted with Bush's earlier bombshell in an interview with CNN that US troops would not hesitate to enter Pakistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden if he was hiding in that country.

At the joint news conference in the East Room of the White House, following their nearly two-hour meeting, Bush, when asked to clearly lay out his position on this matter, since only a week earlier had said Pakistan is a "sovereign nation" and American troops could not enter that country unless they were invited, said, "I mean, this is a person (Musharraf) with whom I've now had a close working relationship for five-and-a-half years, and when he says, if we find or when we find Osama Bin Laden, he will be brought to justice, I believe him, and we'll let the tactics speak for themselves after it happens."

"We are on the hunt together," he declared. "It's in the President's (Musharraf's) interest that al Qaeda be brought to justice and it's in our interest and we collaborate and we strategise and we talk a lot about how best to do this."

Bush said, "All I can tell you is that when Osama bin Laden is found, he will be brought to justice and that's what we continually discuss."

Musharraf, who was just rearing to jump in and offer his take on the Pakistani position, asserted, "As the President said, we are in the hunt together against these people," and in taking a swipe at the media and other analysts, asked, "Now why are we bothering of how to... the semantics of the tactics of how to deal with this situation."

"We will deal with it. We are in the hunt together," he repeated. "You want the person, if at all we confront him, if at all we find out his location, we are quite clear what to do. So let's not get involved in how it ought to be done, by whom it ought to be done."

Musharraf claimed, "There is total coordination at the intelligence level between the two forces, there is cooperation at the operational level, at the strategic level, even at the tactical level."

"So therefore, we are working together and when the situation arises, we need to take the right decision to strike. That's how I look at it."

At this moment, Bush tried to jump in, saying, "Apart from that we don't want to let anyone know what we are thinking about anyway, do we?" But Musharraf didn't let Bush get in more than these few words edgewise.

He said, "...the basis of a relationship is trust and confidence. Now if we don't have trust and confidence in each other and we think we are bluffing each other, I don't think that's a good way of moving forward anyway."

On Wednesday, in an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Bush when asked if he would order military action inside of Pakistan if he was provided with intelligence that bin Laden and his top lieutenants like Ayman al Zawahiri were hiding there, Bush said, "Absolutely... absolutely. We would take the action necessary to bring them to justice."

Musharraf later told about Bush's remarks, said there would be no need for foreign troops to enter Pakistan to hunt for bin Laden and that and Pakistani troops would take care of it if bin Laden was found to be hiding in his country.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC