President Bush is urging the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan to focus on the cause that unites them: victory in the war on terror. He spoke as he welcomed Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai to the White House for a highly unusual three-way meeting.
They met over dinner in the private family dining room of the White House.
Only the three presidents and a few top aides were present. No formal agenda was announced. But it was clear as the two guests arrived at the White House that the main goal for Mr. Bush was to ease tensions between the visiting leaders.
They are at odds over steps taken to secure their common border, and there is friction over exactly who is to blame for a rise in violence in parts of Afghanistan, and the so-far futile search for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
As they posed for pictures briefly before going in to dinner, Presidents Karzai and Musharraf seemed ill at ease, and never looked at each other. President Bush, standing between the two, was the only one who spoke.
"These two men are personal friends of mine. They are strong leaders who have an understanding of the world in which we live. They understand that the forces of moderation are being challenged by extremists and radicals," he said.
Mr. Bush's message was clear as he talked about the common challenges faced by Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the need for the two leaders to work together.
"All of us must protect our countries but at the same time we all must work to make the world a more hopeful place. And so today's dinner is a chance for us to strategize together; to talk about the need to cooperate to make sure that people have got a hopeful future," he said.
The dinner began relatively late, by Bush White House standards, with the three men sitting down after sunset in accordance with Islamic tradition during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast during the day. In his remarks, President Bush said he and his guests may not share a religion, but they do share a goal.
"We welcome Muslim leaders here in the White House. I look forward to having dinner with friends of mine who do not happen to share the same faith I do, but nevertheless share the same outlook for a hopeful world," he said.
President Bush has often said Afghanistan and Pakistan are crucial allies in the war on terror. As he prepared to usher his guests into the White House, he said both want to see Osama bin Laden captured, noting al-Qaida has threatened both the life of President Musharraf and the future of the Karzai government.
"As we work for a more hopeful world, we will continue to make sure that extremists, such as Osama bin Laden, that wants to hurt my friend here, as well as upset the democracy in Afghanistan, is brought to justice," the president said.
Presidents Karzai and Musharraf both came to the United States to address the U.N. General Assembly. Each man had a separate meeting scheduled with President Bush when the White House suddenly announced plans last Tuesday to add a three-way session.
The need for some sort of rapprochement has become increasingly clear in recent months. President Karzai, for example, has accused President Musharraf of looking the other way while Islamic schools in Pakistan serve as training grounds for terrorists. The Pakistani leader, in return, has said that his Afghan counterpart is ignoring reality, charging the root of the terror problem is in Afghanistan.