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Wednesday, 5 June, 2002, 00:53 GMT 01:53 UK
Analysis: Rumsfeld's straight-talking tour
Donald Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld says al-Qaeda is still active

US defence officials in Washington remain very sensitive and tightlipped about Donald Rumsfeld's mission to India and Pakistan, even about when exactly he'll be in each country.

It is a measure of how gravely Washington still views the crisis.

The US defence secretary's first stop is in London, and the India-Pakistan crisis is sure to figure prominently in his talks there with his British counterpart, Geoff Hoon, and the Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, has himself just been to the region.

Then there are several other stops in Europe, including with Nato in Brussels. And there'll be a first meeting of the newly-formed Nato-Russia Council.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
Vajpayee says Pakistan must halt "cross-border terrorism"
At both, the progress of the US-led war on terrorism is likely to be a focus of attention.

In an interview in the Washington Post newspaper, Mr Rumsfeld said there was no doubt that the al-Qaeda network remains active around the world, but that Osama Bin Laden didn't seem to be formally directing operations.

He said he didn't know whether the al-Qaeda leader was keeping a low profile for security reasons or whether he was ill or dead.

Weapons of mass destruction

The Americans are also likely to press their allies on the threat they see from potential adversaries armed with weapons of mass destruction.

One senior US defence official spoke of the opportunity for a "detailed and frank conversation" on the issue and whether Nato should adapt its command structure in the face of new threats.

There will also be discussions of Nato's preparations for enlargement later this year.

Indian soldier at an army camp near the Pakistan border
Military tension in Pakistan and India will be a key concern
It is thought that when Mr Rumsfeld does get to India and Pakistan, part of his mission will be to pass on to both sides US estimates of just how devastating a conflict between them could be, in the hope of deterring a further flare-up.

A recent classified defence intelligence study suggested that a nuclear exchange between two could kill 12 million people, and injure six million.

The hope in Washington may be that Mr Rumsfeld's no-nonsense style will have an impact, particularly on the Pakistani military.

The defence secretary also plans to visit the Gulf states of Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait - important allies in the war on terrorism.

A senior defence official said it would be surprising if the issue of Iraq didn't come up there, but insisted that Washington isn't at the stage of soliciting allies for any sort of Iraqi operation.

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04 Jun 02 | Media reports
03 Jun 02 | South Asia
03 Jun 02 | South Asia
02 Jun 02 | UK Politics
02 Jun 02 | South Asia
01 Jun 02 | South Asia
01 Jun 02 | South Asia
01 Jun 02 | South Asia
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