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Good Intel Could Remove Al-Qaida, Bush Says

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

ANDREA SEABROOK, Host:

And I'm Andrea Seabrook at Camp David today.

President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai held a strategy session, and there were plenty of troubling issues for them to talk about, including the resurgent Taliban. Karzai came looking for more aid to build up his security forces and ability to govern. President Bush wants to see him do more to fight corruption and the drug trade. Their public appearance, though, was dominated by the subject of the Taliban.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: They may have gone into the talks with different agendas, but both men came out to the podium at Camp David today, talking tough about the Taliban. Mr. Bush said U.S., NATO and Afghan troops are on the offensive.

GEORGE W: And we went on the offense because we understand that it is in our mutual interest to deny extremists the opportunity to derail this young democracy.

KELEMEN: Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the Taliban is still hiding in the mountains, posing a danger mainly to civilians: the children, the clergy, teachers and aid workers.

HAMID KARZAI: They're not posing any threat to the government of Afghanistan. They're not posing any threat to the institutions of Afghanistan or to the build up of institutions of Afghanistan. Instead, it's a force that's defeated. It's a force that is frustrated. It's a force that is acting in cowardice by killing children going to school.

KELEMEN: Mr. Bush said that the two men did spend some time talking about Karzai's concerns about innocent civilians killed in U.S. bombing raids, a major political issue for Karzai at home. Mr. Bush said he reassured the Afghan president that the U.S. military does what it can to avoid civilian deaths.

BUSH: I fully understand the angst, the agony and the sorrow that Afghan citizens feel when an innocent life is lost.

KELEMEN: Presidents Bush and Karzai clearly didn't see eye-to-eye about Iran's influence in Afghanistan. While Karzai has called Iran a helper to his country, Mr. Bush today called Iran a destabilizing influence. The two men also tiptoed around the issue of Pakistan. When asked who's to blame for the Taliban's ability to regroup, Karzai said this will be an issue he'll raise later this week when he and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf launch a conference for politicians and tribal leaders from areas along their border.

KARZAI: And I hope that the jirga between us and Pakistan will give us solutions to some of the questions that we have.

KELEMEN: The jirga or conference in Kabul will be watched closely by experts abroad including Teresita Schaffer, a South Asia expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

TERESITA SCHAFFER: No one meeting is going to be that light bulb experience that makes Pakistan and Afghanistan work smoothly together. But the reason, I think, this is important is that it's a recognition that you really can't solve the problem of Afghanistan without Pakistan and vice versa.

KELEMEN: The Bush administration, she says, has been frustrated that the Taliban and al-Qaida have regrouped in tribal areas of Pakistan. Still, she says, the president sounded prime to avoid the question that has been raised in U.S. presidential debates: should the U.S. go after al-Qaida suspects without first alerting Pakistan? President Bush said the U.S. is in constant communication with Musharraf's government.

BUSH: It's in their interest that foreign fighters be brought to justice. After all, these are the same ones who are plotting to kill President Musharraf. We share a concern here. And I'm confident with real, actionable intelligence, we will get the job done.

KELEMEN: That's about all he could say, given how angry many Pakistani officials has been, as U.S. presidential candidates toss around this idea of bombing the country's tribal areas.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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United States & World Morning EditionAll Things Considered
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.