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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 November, 2004, 15:55 GMT
US renews commitment to Pakistan
Richard Armitage with Khursheed Kasuri
Kasuri (R) greets Armitage ahead of talks in Islamabad
US President George W Bush is committed to further enhancing relations with Pakistan, a visiting top-level US politician has told Pakistani leaders.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said the US wanted to extend ties from the war against terrorism to economic and commercial spheres.

Mr Armitage's visit comes only a week after President Bush's re-election.

It coincided with an army offensive against suspected militants that officials say has left 17 dead.

'Forward-thinking'

The BBC's Paul Anderson in Islamabad says the US pledge to accelerate interaction with Pakistan will be a big relief to its leaders, who have been watching with deepening alarm American ties with rival India.

Pakistani troops in Wana
The army believes hundreds of foreign militants are in the Waziristan area

Mr Armitage, who met President Pervez Musharraf and Foreign Minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, gave a clear message of undiluted American support during President Bush's second term.

President Musharraf called for President Bush to help resolve the Palestinian issue and other disputes "affecting Muslims".

"Just resolution of long-standing disputes affecting Muslims will help bring the present turmoil to an end," he told Mr Armitage, according to a Pakistani government statement.

Mr Armitage is being accompanied by US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, Christina Rocca.

He also focused on the disputed region of Kashmir, which both India and Pakistan claim.

Mr Armitage described President Musharraf's recent proposals to demilitarise Kashmir and then discuss a range of options for its future status as forward-thinking.

A raft of peace talks is due to start at the end of this month.

Mr Armitage is also due to visit India and Afghanistan.

Sweep of the area

The envoy's visit coincided with a fresh attack by Pakistani forces in the Afghan border region.

Officials there say three soldiers are among a total of 17 people killed in fighting with suspected al-Qaeda militants.

An artillery barrage supported by helicopter gunships began at first light on Tuesday to the east of Wana, the main town in South Waziristan.

The BBC's Haroon Rashid in Peshawar says the roads leading to the area have been sealed off.

A local resident said government forces appeared to be concentrating their attack in an area in the Spinkai Raghzai region, a stronghold of Abdullah Mehsud.

Mehsud is the Pakistani militant whose men kidnapped two Chinese engineers last month. One engineer and five kidnappers were killed in a rescue attempt.

Military sources said the army planned to completely sweep the area.

A spokesman for the militants in Waziristan confirmed the death of two of their men in the fighting.

Pakistan has been closely cooperating with US forces in the hunt for al-Qaeda militants and remnants of Afghanistan's former Taleban regime.

Since March, tens of thousands of Pakistani troops have been deployed along the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, to flush out foreign militants believed to be linked to al-Qaeda.

Nearly 600 al-Qaeda suspects have been caught and handed over to US forces.


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