WASHINGTON - President Bush met Friday with Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who has claimed a U.S. official threatened an attack on his Muslim nation if it did not cooperate in the war on terror.
In an interview to air Sunday, Musharraf said that after terrorists struck the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Pakistan's intelligence director the United States would bomb his country if it didn't help.
"The intelligence director told me that (Armitage) said, `Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age,'" Musharraf told "60 Minutes."
Armitage told CNN on Thursday that he never threatened to bomb Pakistan, wouldn't say such a thing and didn't have the authority to do it. Armitage said he did have a tough message for Pakistan, telling the Muslim nation that it was either "with us or against us," according to CNN. Armitage said he didn't know how his message was recounted so differently to Musharraf.
White House counselor Dan Bartlett said Friday he didn't know the specifics of what Armitage might have said to the Pakistanis.
"But we have made very clear that we went straight to President Musharraf in the days after 9/11 and said it's time to make a choice: Are you going to side with the civilized world or are you going to side with the Taliban and al-Qaida," Bartlett told CBS' "The Early Show."
White House press secretary Tony Snow also said Friday that he doesn't know what Armitage, who no longer is in the administration, said.
"Mr. Armitage has said that he made no such representations," Snow said. "I don't know. This could have been a classic failure to communicate. I just don't know."
"U.S. policy was not to issue bombing threats," Snow said. "U.S. policy was to say to President Musharraf, `We need you to make a choice'."
In his meeting with Musharraf, Bush is playing middle man in a thorny foreign policy problem that has bubbled up between Islamabad and Afganistan - two U.S. allies in the war on terrorism who accuse each other of not doing enough to crack down on extremists.
Following his meeting with Musharraf, Bush will have talks Tuesday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Then, they'll have a three-way sitdown on Wednesday.
Bush must work to placate the concerns of Pakistan, which is helping the United States track Osama bin Laden and restrain bin Laden's al-Qaida organization, as well as the struggling democratic government in Afghanistan, which is suffering its heaviest insurgent attacks since U.S.-led troops toppled the Taliban in late 2001.
Afghan officials have alleged repeatedly that Taliban militants are hiding out in neighboring Pakistan and launching attacks across the border into Afghanistan. Pakistan, which has deployed 80,000 troops along the border, rejects the accusation and says it's doing all it can to battle extremists.
"This isn't about pointing fingers at one another," State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said Thursday. "What this is about is finding ways that we can all work together to be able to achieve our common objectives, which is a free, secure and independent Afghanistan; a secure Pakistan border area as well."
Musharraf is strongly defending a truce he recently signed with Taliban-linked militants in the tribal North West Frontier Province where his government has little control. Under the terms of that deal, Pakistani troops agreed to end their military campaign against fighters in North Waziristan. For their part, the militants said they would halt their attacks on Pakistani forces and stop crossing into Afghanistan to launch ambushes.
"If they're able to live up to the terms of those agreements, the border should be a much quieter region," NATO's top commander, U.S. Gen. James L. Jones, said at a Senate hearing on Thursday. "We're in the process now of observing very closely what is going on and what the effect is on the Afghani side of the border. And we'll know that within probably the next month or so."
Karzai said in a speech in New York City on Thursday that the Taliban was not gaining strength and he suggested that Pakistan's toleration of militants had helped make Afghanistan unstable.
He also said some in the region used extremists to maintain political power, referring to Musharraf.
Karzai equated cooperating with terrorists to "trying to train a snake against somebody else."
"You cannot train a snake. It will come and bite you," he said.
During Musharraf's visit, human rights activists are asking Bush to press Musharraf to restore civilian rule in Pakistan, end discrimination of women, and stop using torture and arbitrary detention in counterterrorism operations. Musharraf seized power in a 1999 coup. Instead of giving up his military uniform in 2004 as promised, he changed the constitution so he could hold both his army post and the presidency until 2007.