( AP ) - The Bush administration is sending its No. 2 diplomat to Pakistan to tell President Pervez Musharraf in person to rescind emergency rule and allow free and fair elections.
Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, now on a four-nation West Africa tour, is expected in Pakistan on Friday to underscore U.S. concerns about the situation as Musharraf resists pressure to return to constitutional rule or to free opposition leader Benazir Bhutto who has been placed under house arrest for a second time.
"I would expect that he will provide the same message in private to Pakistani officials that we have been saying in public," said deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey.
"We want like to see all moderate political forces be able to work together, we continue to want to see elections move forward in a free, fair and transparent manner (and) we want to see the emergency decree lifted," Casey told reporters.
Casey could not say exactly who Negroponte would see but said his visit was not expected to include stops outside Islamabad, making a meeting with Bhutto unlikely. She is under house arrest in Lahore and called for Musharraf's resignation on Tuesday.
The White House, meanwhile, offered a measured response to Bhutto's demand that Musharraf resign and she ruled out serving under him in a future government. The development marked another setback for a U.S. ally that has slid into crisis and away from the democracy it had promised.
"Obviously, there's a lot of political tension in Pakistan right now," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. "The most important thing is for the country to return to its democratic path."
President Bush reiterated Tuesday that he wants Musharraf to lift the emergency decree, but also that he views the Pakistani leader as a trusted ally.
"He understands the stakes of the war, and I do believe he understands the importance of democracy," Bush told the Fox Business Network.
Musharraf's critics and chief international backers, including the United States, have said the restrictions imposed by the military leader - such as on independent media and rallies - would make it hard to hold a fair vote in upcoming parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, Bhutto was trapped in a padlocked house surrounded by thousands of riot police, trucks, tractors loaded with sand, and a row of metal barricades topped with barbed wire. She was being held to prevent her from leading a protest procession; the government said it was being done for her safety.
Perino said, "We want people to be able to protest peacefully, to be able to have open - an open society where they can speak their mind."
Asked about Bhutto's calling for Musharraf to step down, Perino urged caution. "The situation is evolving almost by the hour," she said.
Musharraf is a key U.S. partner in the battle against terrorism. Bush has sought to make clear that Musharraf's dictatorial clampdown is a mistake without condemning a leader whom he considers an ally and a friend. He has urged Musharraf to step down from his role as army chief as promised.
Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said the review of U.S. assistance to Pakistan was continuing.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced just one day after Musharraf suspended the constitution Nov. 3 that the United States would review its aid to Pakistan, which has received some $10 billion since 2001.
But officials have said since then that there is no legal reason to suspend aid and noted there is not much they can cut because so much of the money is for counterterrorism programs the U.S. doesn't want to disrupt.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Tuesday he wanted to dispel "this notion that we're out to punish Pakistan."
"There is no urgency to punish Pakistan at this point. There is an urgency to help Pakistan get on the road to democratic rule as quickly as possible. So there may be more carrot than stick at work right now. That said, there is this review under way."
"The overarching concern is making sure President Musharraf takes off his uniform and holds elections a soon as possible," Morrell said.