Bush offers Pakistan help protecting itself
NEW YORK, Sept 23 (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday said the United States wanted to help Pakistan protect itself amid questions about U.S. military strikes aimed at al Qaeda and Taliban militants in its remote border region.
Bush sat down for his first face-to-face meeting with newly elected Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to discuss security and economic issues before they attended the U.N. General Assembly.
There have been numerous questions about U.S. strikes in the remote region along the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as an alleged commando raid, sparking anger among many Pakistanis about violations of their country's sovereignty.
"Your words have been very strong about Pakistan's sovereign right and sovereign duty to protect your country, and the United States wants to help," Bush said before the meeting. He did not address the strikes.
Bush also expressed to Zardari his condolences for the victims of the truck bombing at the Marriott hotel in Islamabad that killed at least 53 people and raised new fears about worsening security in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed U.S. ally.
Zardari acknowledged generally that his country had problems but said it would confront them.
"We have a situation, we have issues, we've got problems," Zardari told reporters. "But we will solve them and we will rise to the occasion."
His remarks came as the Pakistani military said earlier on Tuesday that troops backed by artillery and helicopter gunships killed 50 militants in Darra Adam Kheil, a tribal region close to the northwestern city of Peshawar. Ten more militants were killed in Swat, a northwestern valley.
The army has also launched a major offensive in the Bajaur region on the Afghan border, and said hundreds of militants have been killed there since late August.
(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky)
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