The United States Tuesday welcomed the return of power to political parties in Nepal as a great step forward for the Himalayan country. U.S. officials are calling on the Maoist rebel movement there to end violence and accept a political role as well.

The State Department's policy chief for South Asia is welcoming the decision by King Gyanendra to return responsibility for running the country to the political parties, and says the Nepalese people who took to the streets to demand democracy are justifiably celebrating what they achieved.

In a talk with reporters, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher said the United States is coordinating closely with other governments, especially India, to support the democratic renewal in Nepal.

The Bush administration had been a vocal critic of the decision by the king in February of last year to dismiss parliament, ostensibly because elected leaders had failed to deal with the Maoist insurgency.

Among other things, the United States limited its political contacts with the king, and halted transfers of lethal military hardware to the Nepalese security forces because of violence against pro-democracy demonstrators.

Assistant Secretary Boucher, who is due to visit Nepal as part of a trip to the region beginning early next week, said the United States is prepared to return to fully normal relations with Nepal.

"I think we'll look at all those things, and we'll look at all those things based on what a democratic, what a civilian government, what a new prime minister is looking for from the United States," said Richard Boucher. "We would like to have a normal relationship with Nepal across-the-board, including a normal relationship with the army."

Nepal's Maoist insurgents worked with the opposition parties in efforts to force the king to give up power. Boucher said the United States would like to see them stop violence and their blockades of the country's economic infrastructure and accept a political role.

He said U.S. diplomats, who have had no direct contacts with the Maoists, will continue to press for an end to the insurgency through third-party channels.

The United States did not press for King Gyanendra's abdication. But the State Department said Monday the monarch should retain only a ceremonial role.

Assistant Secretary Boucher said it is now up to the parties to define the king's relationship with the government, though officials here have said there should be no repeat of the events of 14 months ago, when King Gyanendra seized absolute power.