WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Gen. Pervez Musharraf Monday to emphasize U.S. opposition to the Pakistani president's decision to impose a state of emergency, a senior U.S. official said.
President Bush earlier called on Musharraf to hold elections and relinquish his army post "as soon as possible," and instructed Rice to deliver that message in a telephone call with the Pakistani president.
Rice telephoned Musharraf from her plane as she was returning to Washington from the Middle East, the official told The Associated Press, adding that Bush was expected to provide some details of the call later Monday.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of Bush's announcement, said Rice had made clear that the United States was deeply disappointed in the weekend move and wanted Musharraf to rescind the decision as well as hold elections as scheduled in January.
The conversation was believed to be the highest-level U.S. contact with Musharraf since Oct. 31 when Rice unsuccessfully lobbied the Pakistani leader not to declare a state of emergency or face unspecified consequences, according to the official.
Earlier Monday, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, was among a group of foreign diplomats to meet with Musharraf, who outlined his reasoning behind the step and reiterated his intention to step down as the country's military chief and return to civilian rule, the official said, adding that Washington wanted to see action on those pledges.
The Bush administration is currently reviewing U.S. assistance to Pakistan in light of the developments, including a crackdown on the opposition and independent media. Such aid has amounted to $9.6 billion dollars since 2001. That does include another $800 million that the administration is requesting from Congress for Pakistan for the current budget year.
But Rice and other top administration national security aides have said that U.S. financial aid to Pakistan must be reviewed in light of the latest developments but that it's unlikely that money for the War on Terror would be at risk.
At the White House Monday, press secretary Dana Perino told reporters: "The best option is for Pakistan to get back on its path to democracy."
The Pentagon said that it was postponing a meeting scheduled for this week in Islamabad between senior U.S. and Pakistani defense officials.
Eric Edelman, defense undersecretary for policy issues, was planning to travel to Pakistan for the meeting, but "it was thought wise to postpone this meeting until such time that all the parties can focus on the very important issues at hand," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, meanwhile, announced Monday that parliamentary elections will be held in January, as scheduled.
Aziz's comments followed a call Monday by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown for Pakistan to restore normal democratic and constitutional processes, and to confirm the January elections.
Reuters, meanwhile, reported that Pakistan's National Assembly would be dissolved by Nov. 15 to make way for January elections.
Aziz told reporters that Musharraf is "committed to making sure that elections are held and that the democratic process flourishes in Pakistan.
"As a result of what has happened, there could be some timing differences but no decision has been made," he said.
Musharraf suspended the constitution on Saturday ahead of a Supreme Court ruling that could have floored his re-election as president. He ousted independent-minded judges and granted sweeping powers to authorities to crush dissent, flinging Pakistan deeper into crisis.
The United States and other nations who count Musharraf as a key ally in fighting Al Qaeda and Taliban militants, urged him against taking authoritarian measures, but the military leader said it was needed to counter a growing militant Islamic movement and a court system that hindered his powers.
Musharraf briefed foreign ambassadors Monday, saying the "superior judiciary paralyzed various organs of the state and created impediments in the fight against terrorism," state-run Associated Press of Pakistan reported.
Musharraf, however, reiterated that he would complete the transition to democracy. His government said Sunday parliamentary elections could be delayed up to a year.
Since late Saturday, as many as 2,000 people have been detained nationwide, according to an Interior Ministry official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. They include opposition leaders, lawyers and human rights activists who might mobilize protests.
Lawyers attempted to stage rallies in major cities on Monday, but were beaten and arrested.
In the biggest gathering, about 2,000 lawyers congregated at the High Court in the eastern city of Lahore. As lawyers tried to exit onto a main road, hundreds of police stormed inside, swinging batons and firing tear gas. Lawyers, shouting "Go Musharraf Go!" responded by throwing stones and beating police with tree branches.
Witnesses said police responded with tear gas, baton beatings and mass arrests.
The Associated Press, Reuters and the BBC contributed to this report.