Secretary of State Colin Powell has ended his peace mission to India and Pakistan, urging the rivals to work towards dialogue to resolve their tensions over Kashmir.
Secretary Powell says that because of international efforts tensions between India and Pakistan have eased considerably. He addressed a news conference after his talks with the leaders in India and Pakistan.
"Some weeks ago the prospect of war between India and Pakistan was very real," he said. "Thanks to the efforts of the international community but especially the efforts of the parties themselves, tensions have reduced. Both sides have reaffirmed their desire for a peaceful political solution to the problems that exist. We must continue down that path," he said.
Secretary Powell says he welcomes commitments from Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to permanently end cross-border infiltration in Kashmir, and India's promise to hold free and fair elections in its part of the disputed region.
"The United States views Pakistan's assurances that it would permanently seize infiltration activity across the line of control as an important commitment," he said. "And we look to India to take further de-escalatory actions as Pakistan makes good on its pledges. It is time to make regional stability permanent. Kashmir is on the international agenda. The United States will extend a helping hand to all sides so that the can achieve a more peaceful, less divisive future," he said.
India says it will not consider dialogue with Pakistan until it is convinced that Pakistan-based Islamic militants have ended incursions into Indian Kashmir.
Secretary Powell says it is up to leaders in both the countries to decide when a dialogue could begin. He says this is not something that can be imposed by the United States.
"I am hopeful that if we keep moving in the direction we have been moving in the last couple of months, where tension is going down, I think the possibility of a dialogue in the near future is something that can be achieved," he said.
In his discussions with Indian leaders in New Delhi, Secretary Powell urged them to release political prisoners in Kashmir and to allow independent observers to monitor the upcoming elections in the region.