Pakistan leader to tackle terror claims on Britain visit

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Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari will tackle British Prime Minister David Cameron's "uncalled for" allegations of Pakistani support for terrorists, on a visit to Britain starting Tuesday, officials said.

After wrapping up meetings with French leaders, Zardari heads to London and in talks with Cameron later this week will raise his claims that some elements in Pakistan back the Taliban, said a spokesman for the president.

"Cameron's uncalled for remarks and the fact that these were made in India had disappointed the people of Pakistan," said the spokesman in a statement Monday after Zardari met French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris.

Zardari told Sarkozy it was "unfortunate if some people continued to express doubts and misgivings about our will and determination to fight the militants to the finish," according to the statement.

"No other country in the international coalition has paid such a heavy price in this fight as has Pakistan," it quoted Zardari as saying.

Relations between London and Islamabad soured last week when Cameron said Pakistan must not "look both ways" in secretly promoting violent extremism while pretending to seek regional stability.

Britain is the second largest troop contributor to a NATO force in Afghanistan which faces daily attacks from Taliban fighters who intelligence analysts say draw operational support and funding from Pakistan.

The Pakistani leader is due to meet Cameron on Friday at the prime minister's country retreat outside London, despite calls from some in Pakistan for him to cancel the visit in protest at Cameron's criticism.

Zardari's office rejected this idea, arguing that the trip gives Pakistan a chance to make its case, according to Monday's statement, which cited presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar.

Following Cameron's remarks, it was now "all the more important that the president's visit to the UK went ahead as planned to raise this and other issues with the British prime minister," said the statement.

London has refused to back down despite the storm over Cameron's accusations, which were made during a trade visit to India.

A spokesman for the prime minister said earlier Monday that Cameron stood by his remarks, and stressed that he had been referring to elements within the Pakistani state and not to the policies of the Islamabad government.

Zardari is not an all-powerful figure in Pakistan, where the military still retains massive political influence and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has more day-to-day authority over government affairs.

The terror row threatened to deepen Monday, when Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi hauled in Britain's high commissioner -- the Commonwealth equivalent of an ambassador -- for a dressing-down over the Indian speech.

Criticising Pakistan in Bangalore last Wednesday, Cameron said: "We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror."

In contrast to the tensions surrounding his forthcoming visit to Britain, Zardari's visit in France appeared free of controversy.

After talks with Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace on Monday, the Pakistani leader vaunted Islamabad's relationship with France.

"France feels that Pakistan is a responsible partner with them in the world," Zardari told reporters, adding that Sarkozy had said he would visit Pakistan later in the year.

Before heading to Britain late Tuesday, Zardari was to meet French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner for a working lunch expected to address European humanitarian aid in the wake of this week's deadly Pakistani floods.

In his talks with Sarkozy, Zardari "called for massive international assistance" to cope with the floods, the Pakistan statement said.

After his official schedule, Zardari was to make a brief private visit to Normandy in northern France where his family owns a chateau.

© 2010 AFP

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