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India: U.S. May Impose Sanctions

Washington, 12 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton's spokesman says the United States has begun examining possible sanctions against India for exploding three nuclear devices.

White House spokesman Michael McCurry told reporters Monday Clinton was "deeply distressed" about the announcement by the New Delhi government of the underground explosions.

McCurry said some sanctions may be "anticipated." He added: "There are certain unilateral U.S. sanctions that may apply and those are under study at this point." He did not elaborate.

Under U.S. legislation, Washington could move to cut off all assistance except humanitarian aid to any country considered non-nuclear that explodes a nuclear device. India is not classified as a nuclear nation. It is not a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty.

Currently, there is no major U.S. non-humanitarian assistance to India.

The U.S. could withdraw its support for Indian loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. But the U.S. has no veto power at either institution. Clinton is scheduled to visit India later this year. McCurry declined to "speculate" whether the nuclear test announcement would affect the president's trip.

McCurry said the United States is "deeply disappointed" because the nuclear testing "runs counter to the effort the international community is making to promulgate a comprehensive ban on such testing."

It was the first time in nearly a quarter of century that India had undertaken a nuclear test. And for the first time ever an Indian government official flatly stated that the country can build a nuclear weapons.

The Indian government insisted the tests were conducted for national security reasons and were not directed against the United States. It urged Washington not to impose sanctions on India.

At the State Department, spokesman James Rubin said Washington was seeking "clarification from the Indian government" regarding this "very, very negative development."

Rubin called on Pakistan, a neighbor and rival of India, "to refrain from responding with a nuclear test of its own."

Pakistan immediately condemned the Indian nuclear testing by pledging to make its defenses "impregnable against any Indian threat, be it nuclear or conventional."

Rubin could not confirm that India, in fact, had conducted an explosion of a nuclear weapon. He said the U.S. government was "analyzing the data."

The State Department spokesman said India's ambassador to Washington had conferred with U.S. Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering. Rubin indicated that the ambassador's explanation was unsatisfactory.

Rubin said the U.S. does not believe that India has improved its security by conducting nuclear tests. He called on India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty "so the world can become a safer place."

The treaty bans all nuclear weapons tests and other nuclear explosions. It has been signed by more than 145 nations. India has refused to sign the treaty, saying it legitimizes keeping nuclear weapons in the hands of a few nations while forcing others to renounce the option to build them.