Bush to discuss Bhutto murder on Middle East peace trip

By Arun Kumar, IANS

Washington : US President George W. Bush will discuss Benazir Bhutto’s assassination during a trip to the Middle East next week as he sees the situation there as a struggle between the forces of terrorism and freedom.

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“I would say to you that the killing of (former Pakistan premier) Benazir Bhutto is another example of extremists recognising the danger that those who advocate democracy represent to their future,” Bush’s National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said Thursday.

Briefing media on the nine-day peace trip starting Jan 8, he said: “…as the President has talked about – what you see in the Middle East right now is a struggle between extremists and those who have a more hopeful vision for the future of the Middle East.

“And the extremists have made clear that they view democracy and those people who try to build it as enemy number one,” he said, describing the shelling from Gaza into Israel, the situation in Iraq and Lebanon and Bhutto murder as parts of an effort to undermine the peace process started at a US sponsored peace conference in Annapolis last November.

Asked if the Bhutto murder and the situation in Pakistan would be discussed during the trip, Hadley said: “I think it will, because I think increasingly people in the region are seeing it as the President does, as a struggle between the forces of terror and extremism and those forces of democracy and freedom.

“And you’re seeing it fought out in various forms in the region and I think that will be a major topic of discussion, absolutely,” he said.

By suggesting that extremists were responsible for Bhutto’s death, he was not endorsing the Pakistani government’s contention that Al Qaeda was responsible, Hadley said. “No, we don’t know. But what we can say is it was a terror attack that killed Benazir Bhutto.”

“And obviously there is an investigation that is underway to determine exactly who was responsible for that. But the nature of that attack and the blow it represents to freedom and democracy is unarguable,” he said.

Bush’s Jan 8-16 trip, to further the Annapolis meet’s goal of securing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by the end of 2008, will ttake him to Israe and the West Bank with stops in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Meanwhile, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack described Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s decision to seek British technical assistance in the Bhutto murder probe as “a good outcome” and “a wise course” taken in the best interests of Pakistan and its people.

“It’s important for the Pakistani people to understand exactly what happened and who was responsible, to get to the bottom of that if it is at all possible. And we fully support President Musharraf in that goal,” he said.

Asked about questions being raised about Bhutto’s security, McCormack said: “Ultimately, decisions about security are going to have to be made by the individual most affected by it and the people around them. They are going to make their own decisions.”

“Occasionally, if asked, we provide our best advice. But it is not for us to make those kinds of decisions for individuals who are foreign government officials or former government officials,” he said without indicating if any advice was sought in this case.

“Now it’s important to try to determine what happened so that that chapter of Pakistan’s history can be closed and that the Pakistani people can move to build on what had been some progress in terms of building momentum for political reform in Pakistan,” McCormack said.