December 28/07

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 20,2-8. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, "They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put him." So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.

Free Opinions and Releases
Syria's impatience is leading to mistakes-By Michael Young. December 27/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for December 27/07
Pakistan's Bhutto killed in attack -AP
MPs Submit Petition to Parliament in Bid to Name Suleiman as President -Naharnet
Officers Against Promotion without President's Signature -Naharnet
France Denies UN Draft Resolution on Lebanon-Naharnet
US Senator: Syria wrong to think Democrat will give it better deal
'Mubarak presented Barak plan for talks with Syria including Golan ...Jerusalem Post
Hizbullah: Opposition Wants Suleiman to Rule without Obstacles-Naharnet
Arab fund lends $75 mn for Lebanon rebuilding-Earthtimes
Syrian paper: Lebanon crises could stretch into spring 2009-Ya Libnan
Houri: Berri Not Involved in Extraordinary Parliamentary Session -Naharnet

Politicians put Saturday session in doubt-Daily Star
Orthodox archbishop appeals to the conscience of Lebanon's leaders-Daily Star
Lebanese officials offer Sfeir Christmas greetings-Daily Star
Israel deems use of cluster bombs 'legal' despite global condemnation-Daily Star
Lebanon limps into 2008 after year of political turmoil-AFP
Three months on, mystery still surrounds militant group's leader-Daily Star
A look back on the conflict in Nahr al-Bared-Daily Star
UNIFIL organizes Christmas gathering in Qana, honors victims of Israeli attacks-Daily Star
Lebanese celebrate holidays under shadow of political turmoil-AFP
For Palestinian refugees in Ain al-Hilweh, right of return not subject to negotiation-By IRIN
UNIFIL troops long to be at home this Christmas-Daily Star
Saniora Discusses Lebanon and related Developments with with Egyptian Foreign Minister & Arab league chief -Naharnet
Egyptian president passes Israel message from Syria: source
Olmert tells Israel MP he will not quit over Lebanon war report-AFP
War Report won't Prompt Olmert to Resign-Naharnet
Belgian defense minister visits troops in Afghanistan, Lebanon-Xinhua
Turkish warplanes pound PKK targets in Iraq-Daily Star

France Denies U.N. Draft Resolution on Lebanon
Naharnet: France has denied that there was a U.N. draft resolution on Lebanon and the French foreign ministry refused to comment on a recent meeting between French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Abul Geith in Cairo. "This meeting was held within the framework of a private visit by Foreign Minister Kouchner to Cairo," said French foreign ministry spokeswoman Pascal Andriani. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad had urged the U.N. Security Council to consider the imposition of sanctions on Syria for obstructing presidential elections in Lebanon.  The Egyptian foreign ministry on Tuesday said Kouchner discussed with Abul-Geith the developments in Lebanon and Palestine in the presence of Arab League chief Amr Moussa. Beirut, 27 Dec 07, 09:11

MPs Submit Petition to Parliament in Bid to Name Suleiman as President
Naharnet: MPs from the ruling majority submitted a petition to the Lebanese parliament on Thursday seeking a constitutional amendment that would allow the election of army commander Gen. Michel Suleiman as president. The petition, signed by 13 MPs, calls for the amendment of the constitution "for a single time" to allow a senior public servant to become president. "Even if Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri did not agree to the same demands from the government because he considers it illegitimate, he cannot refuse this petition," an MP who did not wish to be identified told AFP. Lebanon's government on Monday proposed a draft law on the amendment but Berri has said he would not accept legislation from an administration he considers illegitimate.
An Nahar daily said that ten majority MPs have prepared the petition which urges the legislature to adopt the cabinet's decision to amend paragraph 3 of article 49 of the constitution and to call for an extraordinary parliamentary session starting January 1, 2008 in the event that the ordinary session set for Saturday to elect a new president ended without success.But the Lebanese media on Thursday were pessimistic over an 11th bid to vote for a new president, saying Saturday's session will most probably meet the fate of previous attempts and leave the country without a president until after December 31 when parliament will be in recess.
Legislator Ali Bazzi, who is a member of Speaker Nabih Berri's bloc, reiterated that Berri will reject the draft law from the "unconstitutional" government, saying the move will increase "complications" rather than finding a solution to the political deadlock.
Hizbullah, which leads the opposition, also launched a vehement attack on Premier Fouad Saniora's government Wednesday blaming it for a parcel of alleged violations, including "premeditated" usurping of presidential powers and pledged "new complications" to the already tense situation.
Lebanon has been without a president since Emile Lahoud's term ended in November with feuding politicians unable to agree on how to choose a successor.
An Nahar also on Thursday quoted diplomatic sources as saying that Arab mediation efforts were in the offing after a French initiative to resolve the Presidential crisis was frozen. Diplomatic sources also told Pan-Arab daily Al Hayat that Arab League Chief Amr Moussa was "cautiously" mulling renewal of efforts aimed at bringing the views of bickering politicians closer to agree on a new head of state. Beirut, 27 Dec 07, 13:18

Officers Against Promotion without President's Signature
Naharnet: The issue of officer promotions was discussed at a broad military meeting held under Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman at the Defense Ministry in Yarze, the daily As Safir reported Thursday. As Safir said the conferees agreed that no promotion of officers should take place without the signature of the President in line with constitutional norms. Promotion of officers is one of the items on the agenda of a cabinet session Friday. As Safir said the Yarze meeting which took place late Wednesday was split between those who supported the government measure and those who opposed it. It said the meeting, however, ended with a "unanimous agreement" on the principal that officer promotions would only be accepted after the President's signature. Beirut, 27 Dec 07, 07:55

Hizbullah: Opposition Wants Suleiman to Rule without Obstacles
Naharnet: Hussein el-Khalil, political advisor to Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said the "entire opposition" advocates bringing Army Commander Gen. Michel Suleiman to the presidency. Khalil stressed that there was no withdrawal from the opposition, including Hizbullah, regarding Suleiman's presidency.
He said the opposition was willing to discuss power sharing in the new government. "We want Suleiman to rule the country without obstacles," Khalil told Al-Alam satellite TV. His remarks were published by the daily As Safir on Thursday. Khalil stressed that the presidential vacuum is a "real U.S. demand since Washington is trying every possible effort to besiege Hizbullah, Speaker Nabih Berri and Free Patriotic Movement leader Gen. Michel Aoun." Khalil also accused the United States of torpedoing the French initiative "which was accepted by the opposition." He stressed that the "battle with the opposition is directly orchestrated by the Americans." Khalil blasted Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's government, accusing it of ruling under dictation from Washington and with external support. He added that Saniora's power was confined to the Grand Serail "only" and that he is no longer ruling in the name of the Lebanese. Khalil urged MP Saad Hariri to accept the power-sharing theory "and tell the opposition: You are welcome, take your share, I'm your partner."On Aoun, he said the FPM leader is "being besieged because he is not giving an ear to external powers, but rather speaks in a Lebanese mood." Beirut, 27 Dec 07, 09:49

Houri: Berri Not Involved in Extraordinary Parliamentary Session
Al Moustaqbal lawmaker Ammar Houri said House Speaker Nabih Berri "is not being asked to agree to the convening of an extraordinary parliamentary session."
Berri "is not involved at all, (because) an extraordinary session has actually come into effect in line with constitutional norms," Houri said in remarks published Thursday. He said that there is a full agenda of legislative business to deal with, adding that he hoped the extraordinary session would compensate for 13 months of inactivity. Houri said France was "saddened," by the Hizbullah-led opposition as well as the "Syrian reaction" which mired the French initiative. Beirut, 27 Dec 07, 08:24

U.S. Congressman: Syria wrong if it thinks Democrat would give if better deal

By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent and Reuters
Syria is "mistaken" if it believes it should wait until Republican U.S. President George W. Bush leaves office to get a better deal if a Democrat is elected, U.S. Congressman Patrick Kennedy said on Wednesday. On a joint visit to Israel with Republican Senator Arlen Specter, the Democrat from Rhode Island said a consensus existed in the U.S. over support for Israel. Specter is due to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent Assad a message Tuesday, saying Israel is still awaiting an answer from Damascus on the possibility of reviving peace talks. Olmert met with United States Senator Arlen Specter and gave him the message, which will be delivered to Assad when Specter meets with the Syrian president on Thursday. After meeting with Olmert in Jerusalem, Specter told reporters that talks with Syria were stalled. "It is the proverbial story of chicken and egg, what comes first?" Specter said. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Wednesday delivered a message to Defense Minister Ehud Barak from Assad, according to the Agence France-Presse. Mubarak and Barak met Wednesday in the Sinai resort town of Sharm al-Sheikh. The Defense Ministry has refused to respond to the AFP's report.

Politicians put Saturday session in doubt
Opposition slams cabinet's move to amend constitution as 'provocation'

By Hani M. Bathish -Daily Star staff
Thursday, December 27, 2007
BEIRUT: The eleventh parliamentary session to elect a new president in Lebanon looks likely to be postponed until January next year, with the opposition rejecting the Cabinet's recent passage of a draft bill to amend the Constitution and calling the move a provocation.
MP Ali Bazzi from Speaker Nabih Berri's Development and Liberation bloc, said the session, scheduled to take place on Saturday, could well be postponed.
The MP also criticized the government's move to amend the Constitution as "worthless and inappropriate."
"Speaker Berri has not received nor will he accept to receive any draft bill from a government he does not recognize as legitimate and the recent government decision is worthless and will change nothing politically or constitutionally, but will only serve to increase complications," Bazzi told NBN television on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Cabinet on Monday adopted a draft bill to amend Article 49 of the Constitution to allow the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Michel Suleiman, to be elected president. The government also adopted a motion calling for an extraordinary session of Parliament before January 1, 2008, to vote on the draft bill. The draft bill amends the third clause of Article 49, which forbids grade-one civil servants from being elected to the top job. Parliament's current regular session ends December 31.
Bazzi said the ruling coalition only wants to extend the presidential vacuum and the government's lifespan. "Any petition by the majority is out of place," he said.
"The behavior of the parliamentary majority adds complications and prolongs the crisis rather than resolve it," Bazzi said, reaffirming the opposition's commitment to Suleiman as a consensus candidate. Minister of Public Works Mohammad Safadi said the Cabinet's action was motivated by the public interest. "If circumstances require a constitutional amendment to revive constitutional institutions, especially the presidency, then that must take place in a sprit of national consensus and in keeping with the law, which the government is doing," Safadi said.
Speaking to the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation on Wednesday, MP Robert Ghanem said the Cabinet's actions were constitutional and legal. He said that the onus now rests on Parliament to convene and do its part. Ghanem also said the opposition's constitutional arguments are invalid.
Ghanem, in a separate statement, lamented the political escalation just days before the parliamentary session on Saturday which he said destroys all hope of electing a new president during that session as the Lebanese had hoped. Meanwhile, MP Ammar Houri of MP Saad Hariri's Future Movement, told Voice of Lebanon radio on Wednesday that the coming hours would be crucial for preparing a mechanism to submit a petition to Parliament from majority MPs demanding a presidential election and the convening of Parliament. He said the petition could be submitted by 10 MPs or more.
"Speaker Berri is not being asked to agree to the convening of an extraordinary session of Parliament. The speaker is not involved at all, [as] an extraordinary session has in fact come into effect according to constitutional norms," Houri said. He added that there is a full agenda of legislative business to attend to and said he hoped the extraordinary session would make up for 13 months of inactivity.
Houri said France, which has tried to mediate the political conflict in Beirut, is "disheartened," whether by the opposition in Lebanon or by the "Syrian reaction" which hindered the French initiative. He added that the French are most likely "re-evaluating" their next move.
Siniora on Wednesday received a call from EU Foreign Policy and Security Chief Javier Solana. The prime minister also called Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu al-Gheit for talks on the situation in Lebanon and the region.
Gheit discussed the crisis in Lebanon with his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner and Moussa in Cairo on Tuesday. The talks focused on the latest international diplomatic efforts to resolve the presidential stalemate.
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir met Suleiman and the army intelligence chief, Brigadier George Khoury, on Wednesday evening.
Development and Liberation bloc MP Ali Hassan Khalil said the Cabinet's move on Monday has given the impression that it does not want to reach agreement on Suleiman's candidacy. He added that the army commander remains the opposition's consensus choice for president.
"We still feel there is a possibility for reaching a settlement and there is new French activity, the signs of which will be apparent soon," he said, adding that the opposition deals positively with efforts to reach a settlement and that it is up to the other side to "show good intentions."
Loyalty to the Resistance bloc MP Nawwar al-Saheli, said in a statement Wednesday that the government had violated the Constitution and the sprit of the charter of national accord, and thus Siniora has "assassinated all consensus initiatives." "This group of pretenders is continuing in its violation of constitutional norms and rules and is threatening the formula of communal coexistence with direct orders from their American master," Saheli said. Saheli said the Lebanese have grown aware that the Siniora team and their allies only serve US policy interests, which contradict Lebanon's own interests, its future and stability.

Syria's impatience is leading to mistakes

By Michael Young
Daily Star staff
Thursday, December 27, 2007
demoralizing aspect of much international political behavior, commentary, or policy counsel on Syria in the past two years has been the extent to which it has fed off amnesia. Almost nobody, it seems, recalls that the Syrian-Lebanese crisis took a nasty turn following a botched murder attempt in 2004 against Marwan Hamadeh, and reached a point of no return after the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri. The killings have continued, Syria's efforts to return to Lebanon have escalated, and yet fewer and fewer countries hold this against the Syrian regime anymore.
International relations are often determined by a short attention span that can morph into self-interested indifference; and by self-delusion. With the world's attention elsewhere on most days, Syria has slowly clawed its way back into Lebanon; and it has profited from the illusion that it is striving to be different, that it really wants to change its behavior on Lebanese sovereignty and toward Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah - when that behavior has been successful, so that Syria has no reason to change anything.
The Syrian regime's policies are an endless return to templates created by the late Hafez Assad. What are these? Absolute control over Lebanon, preferably military control, to give Syria regional relevance and leverage in war and peace over Israel; a taste for counterpoint in regional crises, whereby Syria will play both sides in order to place itself at the center of any resolution; a strategy of exporting conflict to ward away domestic threats to the Syrian regime; a desire to impose Syria as an obligatory regional partner of the United States; and a willingness to use violence.
Bashar Assad has been less adept than his father in balancing all these. The Syrian regime's too-frequent resort to violence since 2003, in Lebanon and elsewhere, has alienated Washington while convincing Syria's Lebanese foes that no reconciliation with Damascus is possible. Assad's alliance with Iran has damaged relations with the Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia. And Syria's export of violence remains an obstacle to any serious negotiations with Israel, and has badly backfired in Iraq, where the Sunnis have turned against Al-Qaeda.
While Syria continues to make strides in Lebanon, its clumsiness has created openings for those who want to prevent a Syrian return.
As a starter, Assad has played the French card all wrong. It may take more time for the Sarkozy administration to finally break free of its fondness for masochism and realize that Syria is uninterested in resolving the Lebanese presidential crisis in exchange for improved relations with Paris. The French have displayed astonishing amateurism in their dealings with Damascus in the past two months, reflecting a more general breakdown of their policy-making process. President Nicolas Sarkozy has put his most senior adviser, Claude Gueant, on the Syria case, though Gueant knows little about Syrian affairs. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has failed repeatedly to make any headway with the Assad regime on Lebanon, and finds himself isolated both from his president and from his own Foreign Ministry bureaucracy. Even Kouchner's main Middle East hand, Jean-Claude Cousseran, is not a Kouchner man, and retains ties to the French foreign intelligence service that he once headed.
This cacophony of voices, much like Sarkozy's reluctance to admit that his Syrian policy is dysfunctional, has delayed a full rapprochement with the Bush administration on Syria. However, unless Damascus gives the French something meatier on Lebanon in the coming months, the US and France will move decisively closer, particularly if Syria remains estranged from Saudi Arabia. Syrian hardball could revive the 2004 partnership that led to passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559 (which the French effectively undercut during their recent talks with Syria). If so, Assad might come to regret his gratuitous humiliation of France.
A second mistake is that the Syrians have burned virtually all their Lebanese allies. Hizbullah is strong militarily, but outside the Shiite community its national appeal is at subterranean levels. The party is perceived by most Sunnis, Druze and Christians as a fifth column working on behalf of Iran and Syria. This has severed the broader connections with Lebanese society that Hizbullah worked for years to set up. Similarly, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri is no longer viewed by the majority as credible. He has closed Parliament down on spurious grounds and made promises to Saad HaririSaad-Hariri-Profile Sep-07 on the presidency that he was later forced by Syria to revoke. Berri is a mailbox for Hizbullah, but worse for the speaker, he probably can only survive politically by remaining so.
Syria's other allies, such as Omar Karami, Suleiman Franjieh, Wiam Wahhab, Abdel-Rahim Mrad, Elie Firzli, and Nasser Qandil, are much more a substantiation of Syrian shortcomings in Lebanon than of Syrian strengths. Proof of this is that Damascus wasn't able to establish a second government using them that would have been taken seriously by the outside world. As for Michel Aoun, Syrian Vice President Farouk Sharaa recently referred to him as a Syrian ally; but even if he isn't one, the general is so polarizing a figure in the context of Syria's counterattack against the 2005 Cedar Revolution that he remains unelectable.
A third mistake is that Syria has utterly failed in its Sunni policy. The Sunni community is the major obstacle to any Syrian return. It is extraordinary that Aoun and an embarrassing number of his followers should be so hostile to Sunnis today, when they spent years accusing the community of not being Lebanese enough. The Aounists won't accept that it was Syrian fear of Rafik Hariri's (therefore the Sunnis') anticipated gains in the 2005 elections that precipitated the former prime minister's assassination; it was mainly Sunni revulsion, locally and regionally, with Hariri's elimination that pushed the Syrians out of Lebanon; it was Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's diplomacy that ensured the deployment of the Lebanese Army to South Lebanon after the Israeli onslaught of 2006 - a step that earned him the loathing of Hizbullah; and it is the Sunnis whom the Syrians now need to silence by any means possible, particularly through pressure on Saudi Arabia, before they can contemplate a return to Beirut.
A fourth mistake is that Syria overplayed its hand by trying to block the Hariri tribunal inside Lebanon. That the former UN investigator, Serge Brammertz, named no names in his various reports on Hariri's assassination is worrisome. Without any names, the legal process could conceivably end up in limbo, even if the tribunal is set up. However, even if we assume the worst about Brammertz's intentions, which may be unfair, Syrian intransigence was instrumental in bringing about the tribunal's establishment under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Manipulation of the tribunal process is now more difficult for Damascus. The Syrians would like to see the tribunal go away, but are probably unable to accept even a deal that would incriminate lower-level officials in a way that could convincingly exonerate their regime. Regardless of whether there is reluctance at the UN to go after the Syrian leadership - and there is - the fact that the tribunal is now mainly in international hands could create momentum that Syria won't be able to control.
The Syrians will likely make their grand final push in Lebanon in 2008. If the Lebanese remain as divided as they are today, the Syrians might succeed. However, Syria's impatience is also, in large part, a recognition of its limitations. Lebanon is trying to break free and Damascus isn't used to that. Consequently, it will make more mistakes, and those Lebanese truly interested in an independent Lebanon should exploit these mistakes.
**Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.

Pakistan's Bhutto killed in attack
Associated Press Writers
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan - Pakistan opposition leader Benazir Bhutto was assassinated Thursday in a suicide attack at a campaign rally that also killed at least 20 others, aides said.
Bhutto's supporters erupted in anger and grief after her death, attacking police and burning tires and election campaign posters in several cities. At the hospital where she died, some smashed glass and wailed, chanting slogans against President Pervez Musharraf.
The death of the charismatic 54-year-old former prime minister threw the campaign for the Jan. 8 parliamentary elections into chaos and created fears of mass protests and violence across the nuclear-armed nation, an important U.S. ally in the war on terrorism.
Musharraf condemned the attack and urged calm, according to the state-run Associated Press of Pakistan. He also convened an emergency meeting with his senior staff, where they were expected to discuss whether to postpone the elections, an official at the Interior Ministry said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.
No one claimed responsibility for the killing but suspicion was almost certain to fall on Islamic militants.
The attacker struck just minutes after Bhutto addressed thousands of supporters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, 8 miles south of Islamabad. She was shot in the neck and chest by the attacker, who then blew himself up, said Rehman Malik, Bhutto's security adviser.
Sardar Qamar Hayyat, a leader from Bhutto's party, said he was standing about 10 yard away from Benazir Bhutto's vehicle at the time of the attack.
"She was inside the vehicle and was coming out from the gate after addressing the rally when some of the youths started chanting slogans in her favor. Then I saw a smiling Bhutto emerging from the vehicle's roof and responding to their slogans," he said.
"Then I saw a thin, young man jumping toward her vehicle from the back and opening fire. Moments later, I saw her speeding vehicle going away," he added.
Bhutto was rushed to the hospital and taken into emergency surgery. She died about an hour after the attack.
"At 6:16 p.m., she expired," said Wasif Ali Khan, a member of Bhutto's party who was at Rawalpindi General Hospital.
"The surgeons confirmed that she has been martyred," Bhutto's lawyer Babar Awan said.
Bhutto's supporters at the hospital exploded in anger, smashing the glass door at the main entrance of the emergency unit. Others burst into tears. One man with a flag of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party tied around his head was beating his chest.
"I saw her with my own eyes sitting in a vehicle after addressing the rally. Then, I heard an explosion," Tahir Mahmood, 55, said sobbing. "I am in shock. I cannot believe that she is dead."
Many chanted slogans against Musharraf, accusing him of complicity in her killing.
"We repeatedly informed the government to provide her proper security and appropriate equipment ... but they paid no heed to our requests," Malik said.
As news of her death spread, angry supporters took to the streets in the northwestern city of Peshawar as well other areas, chanting slogans against Musharraf. In Rawalpindi, Bhutto's supporters burned election posters from the ruling party and attacked police, who fled the scene.
In Karachi, shop owners quickly closed their businesses as supporters from Bhutto's party burned tires on the roads.
Nawaz Sharif, another former premier and opposition leader, arrived at the hospital and sat silently next to Bhutto's body.
"Benazir Bhutto was also my sister, and I will be with you to take the revenge for her death," he said. "Don't feel alone. I am with you. We will take the revenge on the rulers."
Speaking to the BBC, Sharif also questioned whether to hold the elections.
"I think perhaps none of us is inclined to think of the elections," he said. "We would have to sit down and take a very serious look at the current situation together with the People's Party and see what we have to do in the coming days."
Hours earlier, four people were killed at a rally for Sharif when his supporters clashed with backers of Musharraf near Rawalpindi.
Bhutto's death will leave a void at the top of her party, the largest political group in the country, as it heads into the elections. It also fueled fears that the crucial vote could descend into violence.
Pakistan is considered a vital U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaida and other Islamic extremists including the Taliban. Osama bin Laden and his inner circle are believed to be hiding in lawless northwest Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan.
In Washington, the State Department condemned the attack.
"It demonstrates that there are still those in Pakistan who want to subvert reconciliation and efforts to advance democracy," deputy spokesman Tom Casey said.
The United States has for months been encouraging Musharraf to reach an accommodation with the opposition, particularly Bhutto, who was seen as having a wide base of support in Pakistan. Her party had been widely expected to do well in next month's elections.
Pakistan was just emerging from another crisis after Musharraf declared a state of emergency on Nov. 3, and used sweeping powers to round up thousands of his opponents and fire Supreme Court justices. He ended emergency rule Dec. 15 and subsequently relinquished his role as army chief, a key opposition demand. Bhutto had been an outspoken critic of Musharraf's imposition of emergency rule.
Educated at Harvard and Oxford universities, Bhutto served twice as Pakistan's prime minister between 1988 and 1996. Her father, who also served as prime minister, was executed in 1979 two years after his ouster in a military coup.
Bhutto had returned to Pakistan from an eight-year exile on Oct. 18. On the same day, she narrowly escaped injury when her homecoming parade in Karachi was targeted in a suicide attack that killed more than 140 people.
Islamic militants linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban hated Bhutto for her close ties to the Americans and support for the war on terrorism. A local Taliban leader reportedly threatened to greet Bhutto's return to the country with suicide bombings.
At the scene of Thursday's bombing, an Associated Press reporter saw body parts and flesh scattered at the back gate of the Liaqat Bagh park, where Bhutto had spoken. He counted about 20 bodies, including police, and could see many other wounded people.
Police cordoned off the street with white and red tape, and rescuers rushed to put victims in ambulances as people wailed nearby.
The clothing of some victims was shredded and people put party flags over their bodies. Police caps and shoes littered the asphalt.
Hundreds of riot police had manned security checkpoints around the venue. It was Bhutto's first public meeting in Rawalpindi since she came back to the country.
In November, Bhutto had also planned a rally in the city, but Musharraf forced her to cancel it, citing security fears.
In recent weeks, suicide bombers have repeatedly targeted security forces in Rawalpindi, where Musharraf stays and the Pakistan army has its headquarters.