Armitage Upbeat About India-Pakistan Crisis

India is considering returning some of its diplomats to Pakistan and making "military gestures" to lessen tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals, the State Department's No. 2 official said Saturday.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage offered an upbeat assessment of progress toward ending the crisis that has raised fears of war that could escalate into an exchange of nuclear weapons.

"I think you couldn't say the crisis is over, but I think you could say the tensions are down measurably," Armitage told reporters as he arrived at his hotel in this Baltic capital after a flight from New Delhi.

"It's quite clear that there will be some actions on the part of India responding to the messages I brought" from Pakistan, he said. Armitage stopped in Tallinn to consult with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who was attending a weekend meeting with Baltic and Nordic defense ministers. Rumsfeld is scheduled to visit Pakistan and India in a few days to continue the talks.

Armitage said he believed, based on his discussions in New Delhi, that the situation has improved markedly.

"It's quite clear, at least temporarily, the tensions are down," he told reporters.

The Indians "are talking about some diplomatic actions, which could include the return of some people to diplomatic postings in Islamabad and some ratcheting down of some sort of military tension.

"They are going to make, as I understand it, perhaps some military gestures as well, prior to Secretary Rumsfeld's arrival."

Armitage said he was unsure exactly what steps India would take to ease the military tensions.

"There's a whole host of things they could do, and I don't know which they'll do, but I got the very strong impression that they were inclined to respond to the international community," he said. He said believed India plans to take the actions "in the next couple of days."

India recalled its ambassador and half its diplomatic staff from Islamabad two weeks after a deadly Dec. 13 attack on Indian Parliament by Kashmiri separatists.

Pakistan reciprocated by reducing by half the size of its New Delhi mission. Its ambassador was not recalled, but the Indians refused to deal with him and eventually expelled him last month as border tensions heightened.

Rumsfeld was scheduled to travel Sunday from Estonia to the Persian Gulf to meet with government officials in Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, before heading to Pakistan and India.

Armitage met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Thursday and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Friday. He was trying to persuade the leaders to ease tensions along their frontier in the disputed province of Kashmir.

Both sides have massed 1 million troops along the Line of Control – the cease-fire line dividing Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

India currently has about 250,000 troops and 1,500 artillery pieces on its side of the line of control, which separates the Indian and Pakistani sectors of the Kashmir border region. Pakistan has about 180,000 troops and 600 guns.

In his meeting with the defense ministers of eight Baltic and Nordic nations Saturday, Rumsfeld discussed a range of issues, including the likelihood that the three former Soviet Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – will be invited to join NATO when allied leaders meet in Prague in November.

Rumsfeld told reporters that "most of us favor a relatively robust" expansion of NATO, which now has 19 member countries.

He declined to be more specific but said President Bush favors adding "a good number" of candidate countries, which include Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Macedonia, in addition to the Baltic nations.

Macedonia and Albania are thought to be the least likely to gain membership invitations this year.