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Bush bid to heal Pak-Afghan rift

Washington, Sept. 28 (Reuters): President George W. Bush urged the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan to improve cooperation in fighting terrorism as he mediated talks aimed at easing tensions between the two US allies.

Bush spoke as he stood between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who have traded barbs in recent days over who is at fault for security lapses along the rugged border the two nations share.

Musharraf maintained a serious expression, while Karzai smiled slightly during Bush’s statement in the White House Rose Garden yesterday. They did not shake hands.

“Today’s dinner is a chance for us to strategise together, to talk about the need to cooperate, to make sure that people have got a hopeful future,” Bush said.

Musharraf and Karzai have accused each other of not doing enough to combat extremists amid a Taliban resurgence that has spawned the worst violence in Afghanistan since US-led forces toppled the Islamist hardliners five years ago.

Al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding in the remote Afghan-Pakistan border area, but Musharraf and Karzai have each said he was in the other’s country.

They flung similar charges about the location of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar.

“As we work for a more hopeful world, we will continue to make sure that extremists, such as Osama bin Laden, that wants to hurt my friend here, as well as upset the democracy in Afghanistan, is brought to justice,” Bush said, referring to assassination attempts against Musharraf.

Bush called the two leaders “personal friends” and emphasised they faced common challenges and must work together. “They understand that the forces of moderation are being challenged by extremists and radicals,” he said.

During a two-and-a-half-hour dinner of spicy sea bass across a round table, Karzai and Musharraf spoke directly to each other and individually to Bush, a senior administration official said.

Karzai and Musharraf had exchanged warm greetings with good humour earlier in the Oval Office and shook hands before leaving for the night.

“They committed to supporting moderation and defeating extremism through greater intelligence sharing, coordinated action against terrorists, and common efforts to enhance the prosperity of the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

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