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Rice Welcomes Musharraf's Pledges, Calls for Lifting Emergency Rule


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has welcomed Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's promise to hold elections by early January and give up his military post. But in a nationally broadcast interview, she warned that the state of emergency he imposed on the country must end. VOA's Paula Wolfson has details.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the promises made Sunday by President Musharraf are welcome.

"My reaction is that the positive element here is that elections are going to be held and held very soon," Rice said. "And also that the president said he was going to take off his uniform. These have both been essential to getting Pakistan back on a democratic path."

But at the same time, she stresses more must be done.

"Obviously, we are also encouraging that the state of emergency has got to be lifted and lifted as soon as possible," Rice said.

During an appearance on the ABC television program This Week, Rice rebutted criticism that the Bush administration has been too soft on President Musharraf. She said Pakistan is an ally and friend that is going through extraordinarily difficult circumstances. She said the proper role for the United States is to counsel and persuade. And she stressed that as troubling as things seem right now, Pakistan has come far since 1999, when Pervez Musharraf came to power in a military coup.

"This is not a perfect situation," Rice said. "Pakistan is a country that has a come a long way from 1999, and the military coup has come a long way from 2001 when it pledged to root out extremism. But it is not a perfect situation and nobody would suggest that it is."

Some members of the U.S. Congress have been calling for the Pakistani president to step down. But Rice said the focus should not be on one individual, but on the need for free and fair elections.

She said the Bush administration remains in close contact with President Musharraf. So too is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat Joseph Biden of Delaware.

Senator Biden - who is seeking his party's 2008 presidential nomination - told CNN's Late Edition that he recently talked to Pervez Musharraf.

"Musharraf called me about six days ago," he aid. "I had a long conversation with him. He indicated to me the elections would go off within the 60 day time frame and he would take off his uniform and as soon as possible before the election date, the state of emergency would be lifted."

Biden went on to stress that lifting the state of emergency is crucial. He said without that step, there is little hope for the kind of accommodation and power sharing necessary for democracy to flourish in Pakistan.

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