Obama to see Afghan, Pakistan leaders in May

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama will meet early next month with the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan as he presses a new strategy to stabilize the region against rising insurgent violence.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari will meet separately with Obama and then have three-way talks during visits to the White House on May 6 and 7, a U.S. official said.

Obama last month unveiled a new war strategy for Afghanistan with the aim of crushing al Qaeda and Taliban militants based there and operating from across the border in Pakistan. Cross-border attacks have caused tensions between the two neighbors.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the planned Washington summit was part of a process set in motion by the administration’s in-depth policy review.

“The president wants to be personally involved … in seeking to find solutions,” Gibbs told reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama headed to Iowa. “The president will reiterate his hopes, his belief of the opportunities but also responsibilities each leader has.”

Since taking office in January, Obama has sought to shift the U.S. military focus from the unpopular war in Iraq to Afghanistan, which he considers the more important front in the fight against Islamic militancy.

Obama has authorized the deployment of 21,000 additional U.S. troops and hundreds of new diplomatic and other civilian officials to Afghanistan.

The U.S. administration also wants to forge closer cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Kabul has accused Islamabad of not doing enough to stop militants crossing the border to carry out attacks. But ties have improved under Zardari, whose country is facing its own Islamist insurgency.

At a meeting in Ankara earlier this month hosted by the Turkish government, Karzai and Zardari agreed to boost military and political ties.

Obama will bring the two leaders together again in an apparent effort to coordinate strategy.

U.S.-led forces ousted Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers in 2001 after they refused to hand over al Qaeda leaders wanted by Washington for the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. Taliban attacks have increased in recent years along with the number of foreign troops sent to fight them.

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