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U.S. leads diplomacy effort

By CNN Correspondent Barbara Starr
and State Department Producer Elise Labott

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As India and Pakistan continue to build up their military forces along their border, Bush administration officials are working urgently on both the diplomatic and military fronts in an effort to stop the situation from further escalating.

"It is critically important there be a lessening of tensions and we will continue to encourage that," deputy State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said Wednesday.

"Any conflict between the two countries can have no good result for either country. They need to resolve their differences through dialogue."

Reeker said this was the message Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered Wednesday during conversations with leaders in both countries.

Powell interrupted his Christmas vacation and came to the State Department Wednesday to work on the issue, speaking twice with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and twice with Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, Reeker said.

Powell had spoken to both leaders several times over the weekend as the situation continued to escalate, Reeker said, adding that the secretary spoke numerous times with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw over the holiday weekend.

Another State Department official said the message Powell gave to both sides was "let's see if there is a diplomatic way to work this out."

'Positive steps'

U.S. officials are concerned India and Pakistan might be tempted to use nuclear weapons. CNN's David Ensor reports (December 26)

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Tensions between India and Pakistan have escalated since 14 people were killed in an attack on India's Parliament. CNN's Michael Holmes reports (December 26)

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For Pakistan, he said, that means "taking appropriate steps to combat terrorism" against India.

The official said that Musharraf has taken "some positive steps" in the past several days, including arresting Maulana Azhar Masood, the head of Jaish e-Mohammed (JEM), the organization believed to be responsible for the December 13 suicide attack on the Indian parliament, and freezing the assets of JEM and another group, Lashkar e-Tayyiba (LET).

A State Department official told CNN that the United States has been "talking with the Pakistanis and sharing evidence that we have about who was involved" in the attack on the parliament, which was likely a factor in Musharraf's decision to crack down on the groups.

The official said that the evidence is a "strong indication" of involvement by one or both of the organizations.

Musharraf has said he needed evidence linking the groups to terrorist events in order to justify taking action against them.

"President Musharraf has proven to be a capable and reliable partner in the face of domestic opposition," Reeker said.

"This has taken courage on his part. We are confident he will continue to demonstrate leadership in the fight against terrorism."

'Real problem

Another senior State Department official pointed to other steps Musharraf had taken since August to demonstrate he is combating terrorism, such as putting suspected terrorists on a "watch list," working to reform Islamic education in the madrasses, and cooperating with the war against terrorism.

"Musharraf has to get some credit here," another official said.

"He realizes he has got a real problem and needs to move, but he needs to demonstrate he is doing it for a good reason because of the difficult political situation in Pakistan."

Musharraf is trying to balance his support for the U.S. campaign against terrorism, which has been controversial among part of the country's Muslim population, with the escalating situation with India over Kashmir.

Powell designated both the JEM and LET as foreign terrorist organizations Wednesday, making it illegal in the United States to support them financially.

The move also calls for a freezing of the groups' assets in the United States and enables the United States to deny visas to the groups' representatives.

In a written statement, Powell said both groups "seek to assault democracy, undermine peace and stability in South Asia and destroy relations between India and Pakistan."




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