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US Continues Push for Immediate Lifting of Pakistan Emergency

The Bush administration says it is continuing to push for an immediate end to the state of emergency in Pakistan, despite President Pervez Musharraf's refusal to heed such a call Saturday from visiting Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. The second-ranking State Department official briefed President Bush on his Pakistan mission Monday. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

State Department officials say it would be incredibly difficult for Pakistan to have credible elections in January with the state of emergency still in place, and they say they have not given up hope for a lifting of the decree, despite President Musharraf's rebuff to Deputy Secretary Negroponte.

Negroponte, the former chief of U.S. national intelligence, left for Washington shortly after a two-hour meeting Saturday in which he delivered what he described as a very strong message to General Musharraf on the need to return to democratic rule.

The Deputy Secretary briefed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and senior State Department staffers on his mission, and then went to the White House for a similar session with President Bush that underscored the importance of the latest dialogue with Pakistan.

General Musharraf reaffirmed his intention to shed his dual role as military chief when he begins another five-year term as Pakistani president, once his October election victory is upheld by the Supreme Court. At the same time, though, he is understood to have told Negroponte that the parliamentary elections he has committed to in January can be fair, even with the emergency curbs still in place.

Both White House and State Department officials dismissed suggestions the Negroponte mission had been a failure, welcoming the Musharraf pledge to quit his military post and saying that, in this kind of diplomacy, one should not expect instant results.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Negroponte had offered his advice and counsel as a friend of Pakistan, and that the United States believes that country cannot have the kind of elections it needs without an end to emergency rule, the release of opposition detainees and the restoration of free media:

"We would urge him to lift it [the state of emergency] immediately," he said. "We think it's in his interests. We think it's in the Pakistani people's interests. We think it's incredibly difficult, very, very difficult to have the kind of free, fair and open elections that the Pakistani people seem to want, and that they deserve in order to elect a new parliament, and the kind of elections that they need to have to have confidence that their country is going to stay on a democratic pathway."

McCormack said the United States is not trying to dictate how Pakistan should be governed. But, he said U.S. officials believe that continued democratic and economic reforms, including those introduced by General Musharraf prior to the emergency, will leave the country better positioned to deal with political extremism in Pakistan and the region.

The Bush administration is continuing a review of U.S. aid to Pakistan, mostly security assistance, which has averaged more than one billion dollars a year since 2001.

Administration officials have said cuts in anti-terrorism aid would be counter to U.S. interests, but have not ruled out reductions, if emergency rule stays in force.

Spokesman McCormack said any decisions on the issue are still weeks away.