Musharraf: US threatened to bomb Pakistan

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The Independent Online

The President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, reveals in an interview to be aired at the weekend that, soon after the terror attacks of 11 September 2001, the United States threatened to bomb his country "back into the Stone Age" if he didn't offer its co-operation in fighting terrorism and the Taliban.

The revelation was made by General Musharraf during his visit to New York for the annual General Assembly of the United Nations. It comes after a week in which the US has been criticised by a number of foreign leaders for trying to impose its will on other nations.

Talking to a correspondent of the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes to be shown on Sunday evening, General Musharraf claims that the warning was delivered to his own director of intelligence by the US Assistant Secretary of State, Richard Armitage. "The intelligence director told me that [Armitage] said, 'Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age'," General Musharraf said, according to excerpts of the interview released by CBS last night.

President George Bush has been battered at the UN this week, notably from President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who bluntly called him the "devil", and by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Shortly after 9/11, Pakistan indeed ended its support of the Taliban and became a frontline ally of America in the "war on terror". However, General Musharraf makes no secret of his distaste for the strong-arm tactics he faced from Mr Armitage. "I think it was a very rude remark," he says in the interview. "One has to think and take actions in the interests of the nation, and that's what I did."

In a press conference yesterday, meanwhile, Mr Ahmadinjad tempered his repeated outbursts this week against the US and also Britain with the suggestion that contacts between his government and European officials on resolving their nuclear stand-off are "moving down the right path".

Even so, Mr Ahmadinejad could not resist the chance once more to pour scorn on countries, which, he said, "believe they have more right to rule world affairs than anyone else". His success in taking the media limelight in New York - in the General Assembly, in television interviews and at a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday - has clearly got under the skin of American officials.

The Iranian President repeatedly refused yesterday to say whether Iran would abide by a UN resolution forbidding the delivery of arms to Hizbollah fighters in southern Lebanon. Nor was he prepared to withdraw the remark attributed to him earlier this year that Israel should be "wiped off the map". Skirting the question, he did say: "I am not anti-Jewish. I respect all Jews."

He several times took rhetorical flight when asked about the contention made by the West that Iran is enriching uranium as a step towards developing a nuclear bomb. He asked why the US was not destroying its arsenals and said that the issue was a "pretext" taken by Washington to impede Iran. "They are not interested in the bomb, they want to stop the development of our country," he said.

Tellingly, however, the President did not seek to undermine the negotiations themselves. A European official said talks between the EU foreign affairs commissioner, Xavier Solana, and his Iranian counterpart, Ali Larajani, which were meant to take place in New York, were now expected to happen next week. Those contacts aim to coax Iran into engaging in longer-term talks on condition that it agrees to suspend its enrichment activities first.

"We will tell you when the time arrives" for Iran to enact such a suspension, Mr Ahmadenijad said, suggesting he does not rule out meeting the condition. While the EU and the US publicly insist that no formal talks will begin until after that suspension, there are signs of flexibility on timing, particularly from Paris.

Mr Ahmadinejad said the success of any long-term talks would depend on Western nations offering certain guarantees to Tehran. He said he was looking for "guarantees of the enforcement of provisions that are agreed upon".