WASHINGTON, March 28: The question of whether United States troops will go into Pakistani territory in pursuit of Al Qaeda or Taliban men continues to be raised here, with senior defence officials basically refusing to make any definite comments.

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asked at a briefing on Thursday afternoon why the US was not going after Al Qaeda/ Taliban men if it believed they were in Pakistan, was careful to say that the US did not want to discuss what it had done, what it was doing and what it intended to do. What he said he would state was that the US had a “very good relationship” with the Pakistan government.

In an earlier briefing, the defence secretary had said the US had no intention of moving into Pakistani territory. Statements from Pakistan on the issue have been contradictory, a fact that was noticed by State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on Wednesday in the following exchange at his regular briefing:

QUESTION: The Pakistan interior minister said on Thursday that their governance of the border has been so good that there’s no way bin Laden or Omar could be inside Pakistan, and, therefore, US troops should not be allowed to search for them there. Is that something that has been communicated to this government by Pakistan?

BOUCHER: “I think what we have seen is various statements in various reports, and newspapers have some actually contradictory statements in them today (Thursday) ..... were. People at this point are being asked about hypothetical situations about crossing or not crossing or hot pursuit or whatever else.

“The facts of the matter as they presently stand are as follows: We have very close and excellent cooperation with the government of Pakistan on what’s going on in the region. We have seen that and are quite aware of that.

“Second of all, we have all these efforts that we’re making inside Afghanistan to maintain security and to pursue the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Third of all, the government of Pakistan has deployed troops to the areas near the border; (and) is maintaining security in those parts of the border. We cooperate very closely, and I’m sure should any particular situation arise, we would be able to resolve it and maintain security together with the Government of Pakistan.”

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