The White House said on Monday that U.S. President George W. Bush meant no disrespect to the Pakistani people by referring to them as "Pakis."

"The president has great respect for Pakistan, the Pakistani people, and the Pakistani culture. Pakistan has been a strong member of the international coalition in the war against terrorism," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Bush used the term in remarks to reporters on Monday when discussing the possibility of nuclear rivals India and Pakistan going to war.

"I don't believe the situation is defused yet, but I do believe there is a way to do so, and we are working hard to convince both the Indians and the Pakis there's a way to deal with their problems without going to war," Bush said.

Most Americans are unaware of the sensitivity of the term. In Britain, however, it is considered an ethnic slur toward Pakistanis who emigrated there in large numbers in the 1960s and '70s.

Asad Hayauddin, spokesman at the Pakistani embassy in Washington, said he did not consider what Bush said to be an insult.

"I would give him the benefit of the doubt and say it was said in passing. In all fairness, I would say it's not a racial slur," he said.

He did, however, receive a number of phone calls from reporters seeking the embassy's reaction.