By Sam Youngman - 05/10/11 12:47 AM EDT
The White House on Monday sought to preserve a deteriorating relationship with Pakistan as tensions between the two countries escalated in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death.
The raid on bin Laden’s compound was viewed in Pakistan as an affront to the country’s sovereignty, and in a speech Monday to his parliament, Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Gilani warned that a future unauthorized mission would be met with force.
Mistrust is building up in both countries, with Gilani rejecting criticism that Pakistani authorities must have known about bin Laden’s presence in a town 35 miles north of Islamabad, the nation’s capital. U.S. lawmakers have said it is hard to believe that at least some senior Pakistani officials did not know about bin Laden’s whereabouts.
Gilani said bin Laden’s death “is indeed justice done,” but pointedly noted that his country was not responsible for the creation of al Qaeda.
“Pakistan is not the birthplace of al Qaeda. We did not invite Osama bin Laden to Pakistan, or even to Afghanistan,” Gilani said.
President Obama is determined to salvage the American relationship with Pakistan even as he seeks more information about bin Laden’s years in hiding in that country, the White House said Monday.
U.S. officials are still waiting to talk to bin Laden’s surviving wives, who are being held in custody in Pakistan. Vital information in the war on terrorism could be revealed from interviews with those close to bin Laden, but so far Pakistan has not allowed U.S. officials to meet with the survivors.
The U.S. government is “in consultations with the Pakistani government at many levels” about seeing the wives and the other materials gathered from the compound, Carney said at his daily briefing.
“We’re going to have those conversations [with Pakistan], and we hope and expect to make progress,” Carney said.
Obama is “very interested in getting access to the three wives … as well as the information or material that the Pakistanis collected after U.S. forces left,” Carney said.
Carney sought to defuse tensions surrounding Gilani’s speech to parliament and the printing of the CIA station chief’s name in Pakistani media.
At the same time, he said Obama will not apologize for sending U.S. commandos into the country to get bin Laden.
“We obviously take the statements and concerns of the Pakistani government seriously, but we also do not apologize for the action that we took, that this president took,” Carney said.
He added: “It is simply beyond a doubt in his mind that he had the right and the imperative to do this.”
Last fall, Obama vowed to visit Pakistan in 2011, but Carney on Monday declined to answer whether such a trip will occur this year.
Bin Laden’s years in Pakistan and the U.S. raid on his compound have raised disturbing questions in both countries. Pakistan’s military, intelligence apparatus and civilian government have been embarrassed by the fact that bin Laden was hiding out in Pakistan.
They also were embarrassed by the fact that the U.S. SEAL team was able to enter their country undetected to take out bin Laden.
Pakistani officials are sure to note Obama’s call on Monday to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The two discussed the U.S. action against bin Laden and reviewed progress in implementing the initiatives launched during Obama’s November 2010 visit to India.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate have been incredulous that officials in Pakistan could not have known that bin Laden was in their country. Some have called for the U.S. to take a second look at U.S. aid to that country.
Carney, however, described the relationship with Pakistan as critical to U.S. efforts to defeat al Qaeda.
“The fact of the matter is that relationship is important, the cooperation continues to be important for the United States in order to pursue al Qaeda and other terrorists as the war continues after the death of Osama bin Laden,” Carney said.