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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 January 2006, 17:46 GMT
Bush to visit Pakistan and India
Shaukat Aziz and George Bush
The two men refused to answer press questions
US President George Bush has announced that he will make his first official visit to Pakistan and India in March.

He was speaking after talks in Washington with Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz amid tensions over a US missile strike in Pakistan.

Mr Bush refused to talk to the press about the attack near the Afghan border which killed at least 18 people.

Mr Aziz had publicly condemned the strike before beginning his diplomatic trip to Washington.

But the BBC's Jonathan Beale in Washington says the two men presented a united front to the press.

'Vital' relationship

"I'm really looking forward to going to your country," Mr Bush said when he and Mr Aziz faced journalists after their talks in the White House.

And he stressed the "vital" importance of the US-Pakistan relationship.

"I want to thank the prime minister and thank [President Musharraf] for working closely with us on a variety of issues.

"We're working closely to defeat the terrorists that would like to harm America and harm Pakistan."

Mr Aziz thanked Mr Bush for US assistance to Pakistan after October's devastating Himalayan earthquake.

The stability of the region demands a... constructive long-term relationship between our two countries
Shaukat Aziz

But the two men would not answer questions from journalists.

On Monday US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refused to disclose how his talks with Mr Aziz went.

The 13 January missile strike led to big anti-US protests in Pakistan.

Mr Aziz has been playing down problems with the US since arriving there.

"The Pakistan of today and tomorrow is not the Pakistan of yesterday," he said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, on Monday.

"[We are] a strong and vibrant nation... committed to a democratic, moderate, tolerant and progressive Islamic polity.

"The stability of the region demands a... constructive long-term relationship between our two countries."

Protest

Pakistan has condemned the attack, but US officials have refused to comment on the missile strike on the village of Damadola, in the tribal area of Bajaur.

Protesters in Peshawar on 20 January
There have been widespread protests against the US strike

On Monday, Pakistan prevented opposition leaders from visiting the area to carry out a protest there.

There have been a series of demonstrations against the attack which initial media reports said was meant to be targeting al-Qaeda's deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Zawahiri is not thought to have been present, but Pakistan says a number of foreign militants died. Unconfirmed reports say three top al-Qaeda figures were killed.

The US has 20,000 troops in Afghanistan but they are not allowed to operate in Pakistan.

Pakistan has about 70,000 troops in the border region hunting al-Qaeda and Taleban remnants.


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