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Bush urges rebels to stop short of Kabul

President Bush on Saturday urged Northern Alliance forces battling the Taliban in Afghanistan to steer clear of the capital city of Kabul, part of an effort to assure that power is eventually shared among the various tribes of the country.

"We will encourage our friends to head south . . . but not into the city of Kabul itself," Bush said at a news conference with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

The Pakistani leader said if the Northern Alliance moves into Kabul, "we'll see the same kind of atrocities being perpetuated against the people there" as after the Soviet Union left Afghanistan more than a decade ago.

Bush said he didn't know whether Osama bin Laden has nuclear weapons, as the terrorist mastermind claimed in a recent interview with a Pakistani journalist. "The only thing I know for certain about him is he's evil," the president said.

Bush lavished praise on Musharraf after a private meeting, and opened the news conference with an announcement he was supporting $1-billion in economic assistance to Pakistan, as well as debt relief.

Bush also said the two leaders had discussed Kashmir, a disputed border region claimed by both Pakistan and India, and that the United States "will do what we can to bring parties together."

Heading into the session with Bush, Musharraf had sought military and economic assistance from the United States _ and also made clear he opposes any move by the northern alliance opposition forces to enter Kabul.

Among the concessions sought by Musharraf was the release of 28 American F-16 fighters sold to Pakistan in the 1980s, when it was an ally against the Soviet Union. The planes were withheld by Congress because the Pakistan developed nuclear weapons. Bush did not address the issue at the news conference.

Prior to the meeting, Bush had waived the last remaining sanctions put in place against Pakistan in the 1990s, including some imposed after Musharraf took power in a 1999 military coup.

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