Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld departs Tuesday on a trip that will take him to Europe and the Middle East for consultations with U.S. allies but will also see him visit India and Pakistan in a bid to defuse tensions there.
On the eve of Mr. Rumsfeld's departure, senior defense officials held a special briefing for reporters about the trip that was most notable for what was not discussed - and that was anything to do with India and Pakistan.
The defense secretary last week begged off most questions dealing with the crisis between the two nuclear-armed neighbors, arguing it was too sensitive to be discussed in public.
But Mr. Rumsfeld has made clear the Bush administration's deep concern over the crisis, noting a nuclear exchange would be catastrophic. "It would be bad," he said. "It would not be pretty. It would be not short-lived."
Pentagon officials have estimated a full-scale nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would kill up to 12 million people immediately and injure millions more.
Even a more limited nuclear war would have catastrophic results in terms of casualties and contamination.
Mr. Rumsfeld says it is in the interests of both countries to resolve their dispute over Kashmir and spare their populations the potential destruction resulting from a war. "It is in their interests as much as anybody's," said Donald Rumsfeld. "It is the millions and millions and millions of people who live in those two countries who would be damaged by conflict."
The exact dates of Mr. Rumsfeld's stops in India and Pakistan are not yet known.
But his trip will begin with bilateral talks in London, followed by a meeting with NATO defense ministers in Brussels.
Mr. Rumsfeld will also make a brief visit to Estonia for a meeting with Baltic defense officials.
In the Middle East, the secretary will visit Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar - three Gulf states which senior U.S. officials say have been strong supporters in the war on terrorism.