Pakistan's Musharraf Defends pro-Israel Gestures

NEW YORK - Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf yesterday defended his recent efforts at rapprochement with Israel and American Jews, describing them as a "strategic decision" in an interview with CNN.

A few weeks ago, Musharraf was the guest of honor at an event sponsored by the New York Jewish community; at about the same time, his foreign minister met in Turkey with Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom. Referring to these two events, Musharraf told CNN that both were intended to clarify that this policy of rapprochement was his country's strategic choice.

Musharraf claimed that his gestures toward Israel are supported by a "massive majority" of Pakistanis, including "the media, the intelligentsia and the masses." No one in Pakistan, he insisted, is questioning the policy.

But in a report accompanying the interview, CNN quoted senior Pakistani officials as saying that at a meeting with an unidentified Jewish leader last week, Musharraf said that Pakistan would only consider recognizing Israel once an independent Palestinian state is established.

In response to a question, Musharraf told the interviewer that he is firmly in control of Pakistan and there is no possibility of radical Islamists taking over the country.