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Pakistani leader: I'll help on bin Laden

Pakistan's military ruler wants to help solve the problem of fugitive Saudi terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden and is considering a trip to discuss the issue with the radical Islamic regime of neighboring Afghanistan where bin Laden now lives.

In a discussion with a small group of foreign visitors, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, 53, also said Thursday it would be regrettable if President Clinton decided not to visit Pakistan during his scheduled trip to South Asia next month. He said that could encourage Indian military aggression against Pakistan, its longtime rival.

"To put it crudely, they (the Indians) might feel that Pakistan had been ditched," he said, referring to his country as a "50-year ally" of the United States. If Clinton visits only India, Musharraf added, "it would encourage them to increase tensions" along the militarized border that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan. "I would really regret it if this visit contributed to an increase in tensions rather than a reduction."

The White House has not decided whether to add Pakistan to Clinton's regional trip, which includes five days in India. Some U.S. officials and legislators oppose a Pakistan stopover because it could give the appearance that Clinton is endorsing a military regime that has backed anti-Indian insurgents. Musharraf seized power in October from an elected government.

In the 90-minute meeting in his office with an American journalist and foreign academics, Musharraf again rejected U.S. calls on him to schedule a return to democracy, saying he does not intend to leave power until he has achieved his goals. He pledged never to use nuclear weapons unless Pakistan is attacked and "vanquished from the globe," and condemned terrorism while defending what he called the jihad and "freedom struggle" of Islamic insurgents who attack Indian security forces inside Indian Kashmir.

Several State Department officials who met here with Musharraf two weeks ago urged him to take steps to restore democracy and to cooperate on curbing regional terrorism. They said they hoped he would use his influence with Afghan officials to help bring bin Laden to justice. U.S. authorities think the radical Saudi financier masterminded the 1998 bombings of two U.S embassies in Africa.

Thursday, Musharraf said he was willing to cooperate on bin Laden. He said he is weighing going to Afghanistan to meet its top leader, Mullah Omar, and discuss bin Laden, international terrorism and other issues of concern to the West that he said cause fallout on Pakistan as well.