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US, Britain Urge India, Pakistan to Step Back from Brink of War

The United States and Britain are again urging India and Pakistan to step back from the brink of war over Kashmir. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his British counterpart Geoffrey Hoon discussed the crisis in London Wednesday, a week before Secretary Rumsfeld heads to India and Pakistan in an effort to reduce tensions between the two nuclear powers.

The United States and Britain call the situation in South Asia dangerous and of grave concern. But after talks between Secretaries Rumsfeld and Hoon, neither had any new initiatives to announce and Mr. Rumsfeld faced questions about why he would arrive in the region nearly two weeks after President Bush had first dispatched him. His answer suggested that several days of international diplomacy seemed to be working. "There are, as I say, a great many people that are talking to the people in India and in Pakistan. I think that all of that is helpful and useful and my guess is that the timing of my visit will be not inappropriate," he said.

India accuses Pakistan of backing Muslim militants staging cross border attacks into Indian administered Kashmir. But in what British Defense Secretary Hoon calls an encouraging sign, India is now proposing joint patrols with Pakistan along the shared border. "It's certainly encouraging," he said. "It's a sign that the Indians are looking for, if you like, the first step back from the brink which is certainly something that we will encourage."

Pakistan dismissed the idea as nothing new.

Secretary Rumsfeld will arrive in South Asia next week, following a visit by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Both trips are intended to lay out for India and Pakistan stark warnings about the consequences for the region if war over Kashmir leads to a nuclear exchange. But after months increasing tensions, Secretary Rumsfeld thinks both countries may now be looking for ways to "tamp things down."