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What bomb threat? Bush asks Musharraf

Alec Russell / London Telegraph | September 23 2006

President George W Bush sought yesterday to smooth over an embarrassing row with Pakistan, a key ally in the fight against terrorism, insisting that he had never heard of a threat to bomb the country "back to the Stone Age".

In a highly charged press conference at the White House with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, Mr Bush said he had been startled by the overnight allegation that five years ago a senior US official threatened to attack Pakistan if it did not co-operate after the September 11 attacks.

"The first I heard of this is when I read it in the newspaper. I guess I was taken aback by the harshness of the words," said Mr Bush.

Gen Musharraf had set the stage for an awkward meeting by claiming that shortly after the al-Qa'eda attacks on America the then deputy US secretary of state, Richard Armitage, had told his intelligence chief to back Washington or "be prepared to go back to the Stone Age".

Mr Armitage yesterday denied that he had made the remark. Washington has long fretted that Pakistan is not doing enough to combat al-Qa'eda and the resurgent Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan. Gen Musharraf has long had to balance the conflicting demands of Washington and Pakistan's Islamic militants.

In an interview with the CBS Network, Gen Musharraf said the remark was "very rude".

However yesterday, in an extraordinary piece of White House theatre, he took a very different approach. Asked about his remark he said he could not comment because of the terms of a book deal for his forthcoming memoirs.

To the disbelief and then mirth of those gathered, he said he was "honour-bound" to his publishers not to comment before next week.

"In other words, 'buy the book' is what he is saying," said a poker-faced Mr Bush.

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