Obama Urges Cooperation In Fighting Extremism

Afghan and Pakistani officials are meeting again in Washington — as the Obama Administration tries to get both countries cooperating more in the fight against extremism. It was a crucial day of meetings Wednesday with the leaders of the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Afghan and Pakistani officials are meeting again today in Washington, D.C. The Obama administration is trying to increase cooperation between the two countries in the fight against extremism. President Obama made it clear yesterday that the United States has a stake in both countries and that all face a common threat - al-Qaida and its allies. The challenge is getting everyone to agree on how to counter that threat. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The Obama administration may have its concerns about the Pakistani's president's commitment to fighting al-Qaida, and it may have rocky relations with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, but none of that came through when President Obama spoke to reporters after hosting both leaders at the White House.

President BARACK OBAMA: I'm pleased that these two men, elected leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, fully appreciate the seriousness of the threat that we face and have reaffirmed their commitment to confronting it.

KELEMEN: Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who recently said that Pakistan's government was abdicating to the Taliban and ceding more territory to extremists, had only words of support for President Asif Ali Zardari. She too met with Zardari and Karzai yesterday, and she said she's been impressed by the actions Pakistan is now taking.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (U.S. State Department): The leadership of Pakistan, both civilian and military, you know, really had to work on significant paradigm shifts in order to be able to see this threat as those of us on the outside perceived it. And I think that has occurred and I think that there is a resolve going forward.

KELEMEN: Pakistan's President Zardari did his best to reassure the Obama administration that investing in his new government will pay off.

President ASIF ALI ZARDARI (Pakistan): For no matter how long it takes and what it takes, democracies will deliver. My democracy will deliver. People of Pakistan stand with the people of the United States and the people of Afghanistan against this common threat, this menace, which I have called cancer.

KELEMEN: President Obama promised Zardari and Afghan President Karzai that the U.S. will move as quickly as possible and not just with military assistance.

President OBAMA: Now, there's much to be done. Along the border where insurgents often move freely we must work together with a renewed sense of partnership to share intelligence and to coordinate our efforts to isolate, target, and take out our common enemy. But we must also meet the threat of extremism with a positive program of growth and opportunity.

KELEMEN: That's why he's putting many other cabinet and sub-cabinet officials to work today to talk with their visiting counterparts from Afghanistan and Pakistan about joint projects. Secretary Clinton says that these trilateral meetings have been showing some early promising signs. The U.S. is also nudging Afghanistan and Pakistan to finalize a trade and transit agreement this year, a goal that has eluded both nations for decades.

President Obama says that his administration has a comprehensive strategy for the region and one that will be given the resources it demands.

President OBAMA: The road ahead will be difficult. There will be more violence and there will be setbacks. But let me be clear. The United States has made a lasting commitment to defeat al-Qaida, but also to support the democratically elected sovereign governments of both Pakistan and Afghanistan. That commitment will not waver and that support will be sustained.

KELEMEN: President Obama vowed to work to minimize civilian casualties in the conflict, an issue that has stoked anti-American sentiment in the region.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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