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December 29, 2001
2200 IST

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US may send envoy to South Asia

T V Parasuram in Washington

The United States is considering sending an envoy to South Asia to try to cool tempers between India and Pakistan even as American Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke to Defence Minister George Fernandes in the light of the tension in the region.

Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clark said the call was made on Friday but refused to describe the nature of the conversation.

Rumsfeld's talk comes close on the heels of telephone calls by US Secretary of State Colin Powell to foreign ministers of India and Pakistan - Jaswant Singh and Abdul Sattar - in the last few days as part of US efforts to ease tension between the two countries.

According to US administration officials, US President George Bush is likely to intervene personally by placing calls soon to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf urging them to deescalate rising tensions which, if unchecked, could lead to war.

At a press conference at his ranch at Crawford, Texas, on Friday, Bush said that he had not yet spoken to the two leaders but would do so 'if need be'.

A state department official said the US may send someone like Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage or director of the state department policy planning board Richard Haas but not before mid-January.

The official said India and Pakistan have two opportunities to resolve contentious issue - first at the SAARC summit in Kathmandu from January Four to be attended by Vajpayee and Musharraf, and the second during a visit to India by British Prime Minister Tony Blair a little later.

Powell is urging Indian leaders to meet with their Pakistani counterparts on the sidelines of the SAARC summit, a US official said.

Since the December 13 assault on the Indian Parliament by terrorists, the Indian leadership has been under tremendous pressure to act against Pakistan, the official noted.

PTI

Complete Coverage: The Attack on Parliament

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