U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell will visit Afghanistan next week on an Asian tour that will also take him to India, Pakistan and Japan where he will attend a fundraising conference for Afghan reconstruction in Tokyo.
Mr. Powell will be the most senior U.S. official to visit Kabul since the fall of the Taleban regime there last year and the first Secretary of State to go to Afghanistan since 1976.
In a talk with reporters in Washington, Mr. Powell said he will promise leaders of the interim government in Kabul that the United States will remain engaged with Afghanistan after its anti-terrorist military campaign ends.
He also said the United States will make a "significant contribution" to the long-term reconstruction of that country as underlined by its co-sponsorship with Japan of the Afghan donors conference in Tokyo January 21.
Mr. Powell's Asia trip, which begins next Tuesday, is shaping up as one of his most politically-sensitive overseas missions since he took office a year ago.
The stop in Kabul will precede a visit to Pakistan and India for a first-hand effort to defuse the military confrontation between the two South Asian powers that erupted December 13 with the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the secretary continued telephone diplomacy on the crisis Friday, calling Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to urge continued restraint in a situation he said remains very dangerous.
"We believe that India and Pakistan must resolve their differences through political and diplomatic means. War or military action is not the way to resolve this crisis," he said. "Both sides have said that they're willing to pursue political and diplomatic solutions, and so we will continue to work with them in that regard."
Spokesman Boucher reiterated that President Musharraf has taken "significant steps" against Pakistan-based Kashmiri militants blamed for anti-Indian terrorism, and said the Bush administration is "looking forward" to additional action expected to be outlined in his address to the Pakistani people Saturday.
Mr. Powell, in his session with reporters, said he hoped the Musharraf address would offer a basis for the two sides to de-escalate the military standoff and start a dialogue saying war over the Kashmir issue would be "unthinkable" and a "disaster."