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Meeting With Musharraf Gives Envoy Hope for Defusing Crisis

By Tyler Marshall
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- islamabad, pakistan

After meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for nearly two hours, a senior American envoy said Thursday that he was encouraged about the prospects for defusing the crisis that has brought this nation and neighboring India to the verge of war.

“President Musharraf has made it very clear he’s searching for peace, that he won’t be the one to initiate war, and I’ll be looking hopefully for the same kind of assurances tomorrow in New Delhi,” Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage told reporters here Thursday.

A senior Pakistani official close to Musharraf described the talks as “a very positive exchange of ideas.”

Armitage made his comments on the first day of a brief trip to troubled South Asia. The visit is the latest in a series of international diplomatic efforts aimed at heading off the very real and frightening possibility of military conflict between two nuclear-armed nations that have fought three wars during the past 55 years.

Armitage is scheduled to fly early Friday to New Delhi, India, to consult with Indian leaders. On the eve of Armitage’s mission, President Bush urged Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in telephone calls to intensify efforts to find a peaceful way out of the crisis over the disputed Kashmir region.

In Washington, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Bush spoke by telephone for about 20 minutes Thursday with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin about several issues, including the India-Pakistan dispute.

Fleischer said the two agreed in their call “to continue mutual efforts to de-escalate tensions between India and Pakistan.”

The United States has an important stake in reducing tensions. In addition to the enormous dangers inherent in an armed conflict between nuclear powers, a war on the subcontinent would be a serious blow to the American-led struggle against international terrorism.

U.S. forces based in Pakistan provide crucial support for the fight to crush the remnants of the al-Qaida terrorist network, believed to have taken sanctuary in the mountainous areas on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border. In addition, Pakistan has pulled some troops away from the search for al-Qaida units and redeployed them along the eastern border with India. The British and U.S. governments issued new warnings Wednesday urging their citizens to leave the subcontinent.

Pakistani sources said Armitage presented no specific peace plan to Musharraf and other senior officials here but was instead searching for ways to coax the South Asian nations to step back from the edge of open hostilities and to agree on confidence-building measures that could reduce tensions.