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Bush Urges Musharraf, Vajpayee to Ease Tensions - 2002-01-13

President Bush has again called the leaders of India and Pakistan to urge them to ease tensions in the region. The calls were made one day after Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf vowed in a nationally broadcast speech to crack down on Islamic extremists.

The brief calls were about five minutes each and focused on the Musharraf speech. White House spokesman Sean McCormack says President Bush thanked the Pakistani leader for his pledge. He says Mr. Bush believes it was "a good speech" and welcomes President Musharraf's decision to take a stand against terrorism in all its forms.

Mr. McCormack says President Bush then discussed the address with Indian leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He says during the calls the leaders of India and Pakistan agreed to continue to work to reduce tensions in the region. But Mr. McCormack says he does not know if either man committed to take specific action.

President Musharraf's speech is also getting a positive reaction from leading members of Congress. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona said during an appearance on the CBS news program Face the Nation that the speech has improved the situation in the region. "I would hope that both sides would bow to good sense and reason, rather than to domestic political pressures which both sides are having dictate some of their actions," he said. "I think it is very serious. I think President Musharraf's speech improved the situation but it is still an incredibly dangerous situation."

President Bush is sending Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region this week. Senator Joseph Leiberman, a Connecticut Democrat, suggested on Face the Nation that Mr. Bush might want to consider naming an envoy to help diffuse tensions between New Dehli and Islamabad. "I hope President Bush will send a high-level emissary to Central Asia right away to seize this moment of opportunity," he said. "You have got a million troops facing each other along the India-Pakistan border. That is literally explosive. And I hope in response to Musharraf's speech both sides will pull back."

Tensions between the two countries escalated in mid-December, following an attack on the Indian Parliament that killed fourteen people. Indian officials have blamed the attacks on two groups based in Pakistan and allege they are backed by the Pakistani spy agency. Pakistan has denied the charges.