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Pakistan offers to build security fence

Musharraf, Rice hold long talks; Bush meeting today

UNITED NATIONS — Chafing under criticism that Pakistan is not doing enough to counter terrorism, President Pervez Musharraf offered Monday to construct a security fence to deter incursion of militants and drug merchants from Afghanistan.

Musharraf made the offer at a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that was expanded to 75 minutes from the 30 minutes originally planned. It sets the stage for President Bush's meeting with the Pakistani leader today.

"We don't ever want anybody to say Pakistan is not doing enough," Foreign Minister Khurshid M. Kasuri said. The minister said he was "fed up" over such allegations.

Declining to say whether Rice expressed support for the idea, Kasuri said "she heard us out" and was "very appreciative" of Pakistan's desire to help stop infiltration from both sides of the border with Afghanistan.

Later, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, "We think it is important that Pakistan and Afghanistan take up this idea."

"We would be pleased at some point to be part of the discussion if they think it is a good idea," McCormack said on behalf of Rice, who flew back to Washington to attend Bush's meeting Tuesday at the White House with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

Osama bin Laden, head of the al-Qaida terror network who has eluded U.S. and other efforts to capture him, is believed to be hiding in the border area.

Kasuri said the fence would be designed to deter infiltration in both directions, but as envisioned by the Pakistan government there would be arrangements for controlled crossings.

"Pakistan has nothing to hide," he said. "And we are fed up with people who say Pakistan has to do more to counter terrorism."

On Friday, Musharraf told The Associated Press that his government has proposed building a barbed-wire fence along the border to help keep Islamic insurgents from crossing the area freely. The border itself is vast, running for more than 1,500 miles.

Kasuri did not specify the form a fence would take, such as barbed wire or solid material. The route the barrier would take has not been decided, he said. Kasuri said the aim would be to screen out warlords and narcotics trade as well as terrorists.

"We have a very strong interest in peace and stability in Asia," he said.

Rice made no statement after the meeting and there was no official U.S. reaction.

The assembly of more than 170 world leaders to mark the United Nations' 60th birthday gives Rice a unique opportunity to advance U.S. foreign policy goals on several difficult fronts.

Success is by no means assured. While the United States is the largest contributor and the world's only real superpower, it cannot count on the United Nations for automatic support.

Rice's lobbying and Bush's appearance before the world body Wednesday come at a moment when the United States is looking unusually vulnerable to foreign eyes following Hurricane Katrina's devastation and international opposition to the war it is fighting against insurgents in Iraq.