The US on Saturday delivered a "strong message" to embattled Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to end emergency and doff uniform as senior American envoy John Negroponte held talks with the General and the man tipped to succeed him as the Army Chief.
Amidst stepped up US efforts to persuade the military ruler to restore democracy, Negroponte, US Deputy Secretary of State who is the highest-ranking American official to visit Pakistan since imposition of emergency on November 3, met the military ruler and Gen Ashfaq Pervaiz Kiyani, who is to replace Musharraf as Army Chief once he doffs uniform.
Negroponte, who spoke on phone with former premier Benazir Bhutto shortly after his arrival in Islamabad on Friday, discussed the "political situation" with Musharraf, state-run PTV reported.
"The US Deputy Secretary of State and President Pervez Musharraf discussed important bilateral, regional and international affairs," PTV reported without giving details.
However, western diplomatic sources said the top US diplomat delivered a "strong message" to Musharraf to end emergency he had imposed on November 3, quit as Army Chief and restore the Constitution and key fundamental rights like the freedom of the press.
They said Negroponte highlighted US concerns about the political crisis in Pakistan and called for the release of all opposition political and rights activists arrested under emergency regulations to facilitate free and impartial general elections in January.
Before meeting the President, Negroponte held talks with Kiyani.
Negroponte was also scheduled to meet Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammed Khan though official sources said no meetings have been arranged with members of the caretaker set-up sworn in by Musharraf on Friday to guide Pakistan through the parliamentary polls.
The senior US envoy held talks last night with Tariq Aziz, the Secretary of the National Security Council and a close aide of Musharraf who was earlier involved in secret parleys with Bhutto. He also met a Western ambassador and US diplomats to assess the situation in Pakistan.
US President George W Bush has been spearheading global efforts to convince Musharraf to quit as Army Chief, lift emergency, reinstate the sacked Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar M Chaudhry and hold fair and transparent elections.
Though Negroponte spoke with Bhutto on phone soon after his arrival in Islamabad, diplomatic sources said he was unlikely to have a face-to-face meeting with her as she is still in Lahore.
During the phone conversation, Negroponte stressed "the importance of moderate forces working together in Pakistan for a better future for Pakistan and also to get Pakistan back on the pathway to Constitutional and democratic rule", State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
Asked if the US was trying to "resurrect" the power-sharing talks between Bhutto and Musharraf, McCormack said in Washington: "Well, what I would say is that that would be up to the two parties involved, President Musharraf and former Prime Minister Bhutto whether or not they come to some political accommodation.
"Now, we know that prior to the imposition of the state of emergency they had come to some tentative agreement about how to move forward with a political deal that could have resulted in her becoming prime minister and President Musharraf remaining as president."