ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) Secretary of State Colin Powell, on a South Asia peace mission, met last night with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and said dialogue with India is the only way to resolve the month-long standoff over Kashmir.

Powell said he will carry new ideas to India today when he meets with Indian officials.

Appearing with Powell at a news conference, Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar did not indicate a willingness to take new steps to ease tensions, suggesting that the next move is India”s.

But, he said Pakistan will “respond immediately” to any positive gesture on India”s part.

Powell once again praised the steps Musharraf has taken to ease tensions, and he invited the Pakistani leader to visit Washington for the first time since he took office more than two years ago.

Earlier, Powell said in an interview with Pakistani television that any effort to achieve peace in Kashmir must take into account the wishes of people in the disputed region.

He said his goal on his two-day peace mission is to “bridge whatever outstanding differences there are that will keep us from de-escalating as soon as possible.”

Yesterday, India said it was open to dialogue with Pakistan and said that Musharraf”s speech Saturday condemning terrorism was “path-breaking.” India initially gave the speech a lukewarm response.

“I have not heard earlier any other Pakistani leader denouncing theocracy in the manner in which Gen. Musharraf did,” India”s Home Minister Lal. K. Advani said after returning to New Delhi from a trip to Washington.

En route to Islamabad, Powell said Musharraf”s speech “certainly showed that this rush toward conflict, I think, has been slowed quite a bit.”

In his talks here, Powell said he wants “to see what we have to do now to bring this to a complete halt and then start going in reverse.”

Powell said the key issue now is not a troop pullback but progress on diplomatic and political fronts.

Once that is achieved, “then the armies can pull back in due course.”

Yesterday, Musharraf coupled his hopes for a peaceful end to the standoff with a statement that he still backs Kashmir”s struggle against “Indian occupation.”

Powell said he was pleased by the large numbers of arrests of Pakistani militants by Pakistani authorities in recent days.

There were more than 70 arrests Tuesday, bringing the four-day total to more than 1,600. Almost 500 offices have been closed, authorities said.

Powell has been in almost constant telephone contact with the two sides since the crisis erupted on December 13 when a terrorist attack on India”s Parliament killed nine Indians and the five attackers.

Powell said the good relations the United States has with the two countries has been helpful in preventing the conflict from getting out of control.

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