LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday urged Pakistan to give its "absolute, total" cooperation in finding those responsible for last week's attacks on Mumbai.
Rice, who is due in India on Wednesday to try to lower tensions with its rival Pakistan, said the United States made clear to Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari there must be complete transparency in the investigation into the Mumbai attacks that killed nearly 200 people, including six Americans.
"What we are emphasising to the Pakistani government is the need to follow the evidence wherever it leads and to do that in the most committed and firmest possible way," she told reporters travelling with her to London, where she will discuss India-Pakistan tensions with Britain's foreign minister.
Indian officials have said the Islamist militants who went on the rampage in Mumbai for three days were from an anti-India group based in Pakistan, a Muslim nation carved out of Hindu-majority India in 1947.
"I don't want to jump to any conclusions myself on this but I do think that this is a time for complete, absolute, total transparency and cooperation and that is what we expect (from Pakistan)," Rice added.
Zardari, whose wife Benazir Bhutto was assassinated by Islamist militants last year, has vowed to crack down if given proof but has urged India not to punish his country for the attacks on India's financial capital, saying militants have the power to precipitate a war in the region.
Rice said there needed to be the "highest levels" of cooperation by law enforcement and intelligence agencies from both countries, a view later underlined by Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband at a news conference with Rice.
"It is precisely at this moment of strain ... that we need very strong statesmanship and leadership to assert that it is joint action, and cooperative action, that will make the difference between stability and instability," Miliband said.
Rice will drop at least two stops -- Rome and Helsinki -- from a European tour this week and visit New Delhi instead, aiming to ease growing antagonism between two nuclear-armed nations who have fought three wars since 1947.
Asked whether she was concerned these latest tensions could lead to a full-blown conflict, Rice played down the risk.
DIFFICULT TASK AHEAD
But she conceded a difficult task lay ahead for the new civilian government in Pakistan, which has threatened to move troops from its western border with Afghanistan to the Indian frontier if tensions escalate.
"But in speaking to President Zardari and in speaking to the (Pakistani) foreign minister they know that this is a time to step up to the task that they have got."
Some experts say the singling out by the attackers of foreigners in Mumbai, especially Britons and Americans, could be a dangerous emerging trend in international terrorism and Rice said Washington was watching this closely.
"This terrorism threat has been very deep and growing for a long time. We have made a lot of progress against these organizations but yes I do think that this is an element that bears watching and that gives us ... more reason to make sure that we get to the bottom of it and as quickly as possible."
Rice said while bodies were still being identified in Mumbai, she believed all "known" Americans were accounted for.
"We share the grief and the anger of the Indian people," said Rice. "Americans were also killed in this attack and they were killed deliberately because they were Americans. That makes this of special interest and concern ... to the United States."
Rice will be in Brussels on Tuesday for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers and then moves on to New Delhi, after which she still plans to make a scheduled stop in Copenhagen.
(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft)
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