U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves Tuesday on a week-long Asian trip that will include crisis-mediation stops in Pakistan and India, and the first visit by Secretary of State to Afghanistan since 1976. He will also attend next Monday's Afghan reconstruction conference in Tokyo.
Mr. Powell told television interviewers on the eve of his departure that Saturday's address by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, pledging to crack down on groups engaged in anti-Indian terrorist acts, has "stabilized" the crisis and given an opening to diplomatic efforts to ease the month-old standoff.
However, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher says the United States has thus far detected no roll-back of Indian and Pakistani troops on the ground. Mr. Boucher said, "I would continue to say that the situation remains dangerous. The forces remain along the line of control. Prospects for military confrontation remain high. So I don't think I can say that the tensions have eased at this point. But I would say that the speech, the steps the Pakistani government is taking [and] the reaction of the Indian government offer a prospect for the easing of tensions.
Secretary Powell, who has been in frequent telephone contact with Indian and Pakistani leaders since the crisis began, said a way has to be found to assure that no spark "ignites a conflagration" between the two South Asian powers.
He said that President Musharraf should be commended for saying that extremism and terrorism have no place in Pakistani society, and for declaring that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance.
Calling India's response to the address "measured and positive," Mr. Powell said India's leaders are now looking for action by the Pakistani leader and said he believes they will see it.
The Secretary of State will hold talks in Kabul with the head of the interim Afghan government, Hamid Karzai, and then join him in Tokyo early next week for a donors' conference on Afghan reconstruction sponsored jointly by the United States, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the European Union.
He says the United States is ready to make a "significant" contribution to the long-term re-building effort, and in the meantime is working at the United Nations and elsewhere to free up tens of millions of dollars in impounded Afghan funds for the interim government's immediate use.