- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 5, 2002

The United States sees some encouraging signs in the standoff between India and Pakistan but considers the situation still so dangerous that a senior U.S. envoy might be dispatched soon to the region, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday.
The leaders of India and Pakistan, meanwhile, attended the same royal banquet during a previously scheduled summit of South Asian nations in Nepal in their first encounter since the crisis began, but neither showed any signs of planning to meet for direct talks.
Mr. Powell noted that a meeting was "up to them," but he told the BBC that "perhaps there will be an opportunity for the two leaders to have a word about this, and I hope if that opportunity presents itself, they will take it."
"There are some encouraging signs out there, but I don't want to overplay this. This is still a very dangerous situation," Mr. Powell said.
Yesterday, Pakistan announced the arrests of 130 Islamic militants, including leaders of two groups that India accuses of carrying out an attack on its Parliament on Dec. 13 that killed 14 persons.
"The crackdown, which started last night, is still going on," said an Interior Ministry spokesman, Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema. He said key leaders of the main militant groups, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, were among those detained, but no names were immediately made public.
Despite the latest wave of arrests, Indian government spokeswoman Nirupama Rao said there were "no indications" that Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, will meet one-on-one on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation in Katmandu, the capital of Nepal.
Mr. Vajpayee met with every leader at the South Asian summit except the Pakistani president, the spokeswoman said, but she refused to say whether it was a snub.
After the two leaders return home, Washington may send a senior U.S. official to the region, said Mr. Powell, who has been engaged in telephone diplomacy in an attempt to ease tensions between the nuclear rivals for nearly two weeks.
Since the Parliament attack, India and Pakistan have amassed thousands of troops along their border, cut off airspace rights, slashed their embassy staffs and severed air, train and bus service.
Indian and Pakistani troops exchanged mortar and small-arms fire yesterday in Kashmir, the province that is at the heart of the long-running dispute between the two South Asian countries.
The U.S. ambassadors to New Delhi and Islamabad, Robert Blackwill and Wendy Chamberlain, have also been deeply involved in trying to solve the crisis and have remained in daily contact with their host governments, Mr. Powell said.
He indicated yesterday an envoy might be needed to supplement their efforts.
"As far as somebody actually going there to add to our efforts, this is under consideration, and we will take a hard look at this at the beginning of next week, after the leaders have returned from Katmandu," he said.
The Associated Press reported that candidates for the delicate assignment include Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and Richard Haass, director of policy planning at the State Department.
Another senior State Department official said that Washington will wait until British Prime Minister Tony Blair ends his own visit to the region. Mr. Blair arrived in India yesterday after a stop in Bangladesh and is scheduled to meet with Mr. Vajpayee tomorrow before heading to Pakistan.
Pakistan received a boost this week when it got a strong vote of support from China, its traditional ally, in the showdown with India.
Chinese Prime Minister Zhu Rongji met with Gen. Musharraf for three hours Thursday in Beijing before the Pakistani leader flew on to Nepal. Mr. Zhu assured Gen. Musharraf of China's "principled and everlasting support" for Islamabad, said a Pakistani official statement released yesterday.

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