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Chicago Tribune - Obama: If Pakistan 'will not act' on terrorists, 'we will'

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Chicago Tribune - Obama: If Pakistan 'will not act' on terrorists, 'we will'

Mike Dorning

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama today called for a harder line against al Qaeda operatives hiding in tribal areas of Pakistan even at the risk of undercutting the American ally who leads the Muslim state.

The Illinois senator even threatened to use U.S. military force in those areas if Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf did not.

"I understand that President Musharraf has his own challenges. But let me make this clear," Obama said. "If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets and (Pakistani) President (Pervez) Musharraf will not act, we will."

The Bush Administration has followed a delicate strategy in Pakistan. The White House has prodded Musharraf, a key ally in the struggle against the Taliban, to take stronger steps against terrorist havens while also taking care not to undermine a leader who maintains a delicate hold on power and faces an internal challenge from Islamic fundamentalists.

Obama's stance provides a show of foreign-policy strength at a time when rival Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) has sought to portray him as naïve in international affairs after Obama indicated he would be willing to negotiate with foreign dictators that he U.S. has shunned.

Obama said he would make continued military aid to Pakistan conditional on a more aggressive Pakistani Army offensive against the Al Qaeda followers who have retreated to a region along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in which local tribes operate virtually free of central government authority. Intelligence reports recently made public suggest Al Qaeda is rebuilding its strength from those safe havens.

"I would make our conditions clear: Pakistan must make substantial progress in closing down the training camps, evicting foreign fighters and preventing the Taliban from using Pakistan as a staging area for attacks in Afghanistan," Obama said.

White House spokesman Tony Snow defended the Bush Administration's strategy in Pakistan.

"We think that our approach to Pakistan is not only one that respects the sovereignty of Pakistan, but also is designed so that we are working in cooperation," Snow said. "Gen. Musharraf, President Musharraf, is clearly somebody who has chips in the game here.. He has been the target of multiple (assassination attempts)."

Obama made the comments in a speech on counter-terrorism policy that added new detail to themes that he has frequently sounded on the campaign trail.

He called for a withdrawal of forces from Iraq and greater commitment to the fight in Afghanistan while urging a new emphasis on winning the sympathies of the global Islamic population away from fundamentalist extremists.

Obama promised to go to a major Islamic forum within his first 100 days in office to "deliver an address to redefine our struggle" against Islamic extremists.

The idea of such an address reflects an asset as a global messenger that many of the foreign policy experts who have gravitated to Obama’s circle of advisers see in the candidate’s life experiences. Obama spent part of his youth in the world’s largest Muslim nation, Indonesia, and his ties to extended family in Africa through his Kenyan father could give him additional credibility in the developing world.

"Too often since 9/11, the extremists have defined us, not the other way around," Obama said. "When I am president, that will change. We will author our own story."

Obama repeated an earlier pledge to double U.S. foreign aid to $50 billion by 2012 and said that aid package would include a $2 billion global education program targeted at reducing the influence of radical madrasas, Islamic religious schools that some fundamentalist groups have used to promote their ideology.

"America must show -- through deeds as well as words -- that we stand with those who seek a better life," said Obama, who also said he would deploy at least two additional combat brigades to Afghanistan and would increase non-military aid to the country by $1 billion per year.

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