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Wait for the Book, Musharraf Says

The Pakistani president dodges questions about claims of U.S. coercion after the 9/11 attacks.

September 23, 2006|Molly Hennessy-Fiske | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf is a seasoned military officer who led troops to battle, trained commandos, seized control of his country and escaped three assassination attempts. But he said he was powerless to answer reporters' key question Friday during a visit to the White House -- because he was at the mercy of his publisher.

Musharraf cited a book contract as he dodged a question about a purported Bush administration threat to bomb his country "back to the Stone Age" if it did not cooperate with the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks. He told a packed East Room audience that he was "honor bound" by his publisher not to answer until it releases the book, "In The Line of Fire: A Memoir" on Monday, he said.

"In other words," President Bush quipped, "buy the book is what he's saying."

Musharraf did not sign a confidentiality agreement with publisher Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, but he promised not to speak about its contents until Monday, spokeswoman Carisa Hays said.

The publisher arranged an exclusive interview for Musharraf with "60 Minutes," set to air Sunday night, in which he discusses threats made by a senior Bush administration official to bomb Pakistan if it did not cooperate after the terrorist attacks. Excerpts of the interview were made public Thursday.

The publisher's website said Musharraf also has interviews scheduled with NPR, NBC's "Today" show and "Meet the Press," and Comedy Central's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

Musharraf's literary agent, Chris Calhoun, said the president was standing on principle.

"He's appreciative of the job the publisher has done. He's keeping his word," Calhoun said.

Publishing industry leaders disagreed.

Though it is common for high-profile authors, including world leaders such as former Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir, to reserve comment on books they write while in office, they rarely stay mum on issues of national security to protect their publicity, said Sara Nelson, editor of Publishers Weekly.

"If the responsibility of a leader is to inform his people about what's going on, and he says 'I can't because I have a book coming out,' that's weird," Nelson said.

"If George Bush said he couldn't comment on 9/11 because he had a contract with Simon & Schuster, all hell would break loose," she said.

Nelson said the episode probably would boost Musharraf's book sales next week, but would garner little lasting attention. As of Friday evening, Musharraf's 368-page memoir was ranked No. 122 in pre-release sales at Amazon.com.

Peter Osnos, founder and editor-at-large of PublicAffairs Books in New York, called Musharraf's book pitch "bizarre."

"What are we protecting here? The book has been written and shipped. He has already been interviewed. This is a curious gambit," Osnos said.

The honor code among authors is flexible, Osnos said, and Musharraf's "honor bound" comment was all showmanship, "for fun and profit rather than out of principle."

Publishers have speculated that Musharraf received a six-figure contract for the book in February 2005, and Nelson of Publishers Weekly said he probably was earning much more.

"They've orchestrated this very well," Nelson said. "It's going to get everybody -- as we are now -- talking about the ethics of it."

molly.hennessy-fiske@

latimes.com

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