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U.S. granted access to speak to bin Laden's wives

By the CNN Wire Staff
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U.S. to have access to bin Laden's wives
  • Decision proves Pakistan has nothing to hide, Pakistani foreign minister says
  • U.S. optimistic about Pakistani cooperation, White House spokesman says
  • All 3 wives were taken into custody after the May 2 raid by U.S. special forces
  • No surge in attacks in Afghanistan, NATO commander in eastern Afghanistan says

Abbottabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- The United States will be given access to Osama bin Laden's wives and children, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik told CNN on Tuesday.

On Monday, a senior Pakistani intelligence source had said the United States could question bin Laden's wives only if their "country of origin has been asked for permission."

One of bin Laden's wives is from Yemen. A well-placed U.S. official who would not speak on the record said the other two wives are from Saudi Arabia.

Malik, in an interview Tuesday with CNN, said Pakistan is giving the United States access "so they can interrogate them, they can interview them."

Malik did not say when or where the United States would have such access. Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said Tuesday U.S. and Pakistani officials were discussing the matter.

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  • Osama bin Laden
  • Al Qaeda
  • Pakistan
  • Terrorism

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration is optimistic that U.S.-Pakistani cooperation "will continue with regards to" access to bin Laden's wives "and also to the materials that were collected by the Pakistanis after the U.S. commandos left" the compound where they killed bin Laden.

Carney described the U.S.-Pakistani relationship as "important and complicated."

Malik, in his interview with CNN, said allowing the wives to be interviewed should make clear to the United States that Pakistan has nothing to hide -- and put to rest any suspicions that the world's most-wanted terrorist might have had a support network inside the Pakistani government, military or intelligence services.

If Pakistan had "skeletons" to hide, "do you think we would allow access to the wives and the children of Osama?" he asked.

Malik called the decision "proof" that Pakistan is "very clear that we didn't know" bin Laden was living in a compound in Abbottabad, a Pakistani city with a major military presence, rather than in mountainous areas which Pakistani and U.S. officials often said were believed to be bin Laden's hiding place.

U.S. President Barack Obama told CBS' "60 Minutes," "We think that there had to be some sort of support network for bin Laden inside of Pakistan. But we don't know who or what that support network was."

Malik said there is "not an iota of doubt" in his mind that bin Laden had "no support network from official sources."

Acknowledging an intelligence failure, he said the investigation that Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has ordered will explore what went wrong, and the answers "will be made public."

One U.S. official said "both sides understand the importance of the relationship," but expressed concerns over Pakistan's control over all of its political participants.

"The boat is moving, but there is some chop in the water."

The official said that CIA Director Leon Panetta and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Chief Lt. Gen. Ahmad Shuja Pasha "have always had productive exchanges, even though there have been disagreements."

Pasha's position atop the ISI is considered valuable to the U.S., the official said, because of his close connection to chief of army staff, Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.

Meanwhile,Pakistani officials have said bin Laden's family members will be repatriated to their home countries after their initial interrogations.

All three wives and eight of his children were taken into Pakistani custody after the May 2 raid by U.S. commandos that killed bin Laden, the leader of the al Qaeda terrorist movement.

The 29-year-old Yemeni wife, Amal Ahmed Abdulfattah, was wounded during the raid. The U.S. official identified the other two women as Khairiah Sabar, also known as "Umm Hamza," and Siham Sabar, or "Umm Khalid."

Although U.S. officials have warned of possible reprisal attacks by bin Laden supporters, there has been no surge of attacks inside Afghanistan, the commander of NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan said Tuesday.

"There has been a lot of talk about revenge, about (insurgents) coming at both the coalition and the Afghan forces here, but we have not seen that here since the first of May," said Regional Command East Commander Maj. Gen. John Campbell. U.S. and coalition forces were already on guard against an expected Taliban spring offensive even before bin Laden's death, Campbell added.

Campbell said he hoped that bin Laden's death, and the images of him inside the compound that the United States released, may discourage insurgents. But he also cautioned that bin Laden will certainly be replaced with a new al Qaeda leader.

"I don't think that one person makes the war on terror here," Campbell said. But he added that he expects insurgents to face some difficulties raising money without bin Laden's "charisma" as part of the effort.

The commander also noted al Qaeda is just one of the insurgent groups that NATO and U.S. forces are fighting in Afghanistan.

CNN's Pam Benson contributed to this report

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