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U.S. Postpones Defense Meetings With Pakistan

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BEIJING, Nov. 5, 2007 – The United States is watching the developing situation in Pakistan closely and will review all assistance programs to the country, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

“Pakistan is a country of great strategic importance to the United States and a key partner in the war on terror,” the secretary said during a news conference at the Chinese Ministry of National Defense. Gates spoke after meeting with Chinese Minister of National Defense Gen. Cao Gangchuan.

Gates said the United States urges Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to return his country to “law-based, constitutional and democratic rule as soon as possible.”

The review of defense assistance will be “mindful to not undermine on-going counterterrorism efforts.”

The United States will postpone bilateral defense consultative meeting with Pakistan, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said here today.

“In light of President Musharraf’s declaration it was thought wise to postpone this meeting until such time that all parties can focus on the very important issues at hand that they have to discuss,” Morrell said.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Eric Edelman was set to head the U.S. delegation to the meetings in Islamabad, which were scheduled for Nov. 6-7. Morrell emphasized that the consultative talks were postponed and not canceled.

Morrell said that no military operations in Afghanistan have been affected by Musharraf’s declaration in Pakistan. NATO and Afghan soldiers routinely cooperate with Pakistan’s army to stop al Qaeda and Taliban fighters from infiltrating into eastern Afghanistan.

The talks between Pakistan and the United States are annual talks and cover the range of U.S.-Pakistani shared interests.

“These are important bilateral meetings that require an atmosphere where the issues can be addressed with the full attention of all participants,” Morrell said to reporters traveling with Gates. “We hope to reschedule these meetings as soon as conditions are more conducive to the important objectives at hand.”

The message to President Musharraf is uniform throughout the U.S. government, Morrell said. “There is a degree of disappointment that General Musharraf has taken the steps that he has taken, and we would urge him to return to a law-based, constitutional democratic government as early as possible,” Morrell said.

Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan Nov. 2. U.S. response was quick in coming. “The United States is deeply disturbed by reports that Pakistani President Musharraf has taken extra-constitutional actions and has imposed a state of emergency,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a release.

McCormack said the state of emergency would be a sharp setback for Pakistani democracy.

“President Musharraf has stated repeatedly that he will step down as Chief of Army Staff before re-taking the presidential oath of office and has promised to hold elections by Jan. 15,” McCormack said. “We expect him to uphold these commitments and urge him to do so immediately.”

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