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Asia: U.S. Urges India, Pakistan To Freeze Nuclear Arms Programs

Washington, 29 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- It is day one of a new world of heightening danger and deprivation for south Asians, as the U.S. claps sanctions on Pakistan, as well as India, and the international community scrambles to halt a burgeoning nuclear arms race on the sub-continent, set off by their nuclear tests.

President Bill Clinton set the tone Thursday after announcing the economic sanctions against Pakistan.

He deplored the nuclear detonations conducted by the Islamabad government -- as did all the major powers -- and laid out a course the U.S. believes could stop a nasty situation from getting worse.

Saying "it is now more urgent than yesterday," Clinton called on India and Pakistan "to renounce further tests, sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and take decisive steps to reduce tensions in South Asia."

Separately at the State Department, Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said these are the immediate goals the U.S. is now actively pursuing.

He added that the U.S. would also like to see a pledge from both countries not to put nuclear weapons on their ballistic missiles, although the Indian and Pakistani governments have already declared intentions to do so.

Talbott said such statements in Islamabad and New Delhi "carry the potential of further provocation and escalation and deterioration of what is already an extremely dangerous situation."

U.S. Defense Department officials say India and Pakistan both have short-range missiles and are now completing development of long-range ballistic missiles to provide delivery vehicles for nuclear warheads.

Talbott said the U.S. has "powerful arguments... that will be made in days and weeks to come" to convince India and Pakistan that it would not be in their self-interest to go any further with their nuclear weapons programs.

He was referring partly to the economic sanctions now in effect against both countries.

The sanctions are mandatory under a U.S. law, requiring Washington to block international loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and cut off direct U.S. economic aid to countries that proliferate nuclear weapons.

Pakistan, with a large foreign debt and relatively small foreign currency reserves, is expected to suffer more under the sanctions than India. And Talbott made that clear on a trip to Islamabad earlier this month -- but to no avail.

This is the third time U.S. sanctions have failed to deter Pakistan from going ahead with its nuclear weapons program -- following similar penalties in 1979 and 1990 because of U.S. suspicions that the Islamabad government was developing nuclear weapons.

Talbott stressed Thursday that the U.S. has not given up on the issue and "will remain very much engaged in the diplomatic process bilaterally and mutilaterally... to do what it can to see that cooler heads prevail."

He said the U.S. is working "to develop a plan and a program for international and multilateral efforts toward a goal on which I think there is a very high degree of consensus."

America's ambassador to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, said Washington is seeking "appropriate" action in the Security Council. "We think that the international community... should join together to stop this arms race," he said.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan Thursday urged India and Pakistan to promise not to use nuclear arms against each other, and offered to help them resume a high-level dialogue to try and overcome decades of bitter rivalry.

U.S. and international diplomacy is expected to focus on settling a long-simmering dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, the Himalayan, predominantly Muslim, region partitioned between them, which is now seen as a dangerous flash point for a possible nuclear conflict.

U.S. officials are displaying a sober, studied calm about the situation, refraining from any comments that might be misconstrued and further increase tensions. But some experts and analysts are outspoken about what the politicians are thinking.

David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based private research group, said he does not believe India and Pakistan are capable of "preventing a conventional military conflict from accidentally slipping into a nuclear exchange."

The two countries have gone to war twice before over Kashmir's status and periodic clashes have claimed tens of thousands of lives on both sides of the border in the last 50 years.

At the U.S. Defense Department Thursday, spokesman Kenneth Bacon confirmed that Pakistani and Indian forces in the Kashmir region are on heightened alert. "It is not surprising that the countries are nervous about one another now and that's been shown in some of their force dispositions," he said.

Analysts point out that the U.S. and former Soviet Union managed their nuclear rivalry through regular communications and summit conferences but nothing like that exists between India and Pakistan.

Part of the international diplomatic effort will be aimed at getting the two countries to behave like responsible nuclear powers and set up emergency communications and confidence-building agreements.

Former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger spoke about the global consequences in a CNN television interview, noting that "Iran has long wanted to be a nuclear power and every step like this (Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests) encourages these pip-squeak countries to pursue the same thing."

Senator Daniel Moynihan (D-New York), a former ambassador to India, said he is afraid the Islamic republic of Pakistan might share its nuclear technology with Middle East nations hostile to Israel. "We now have an Islamic bomb," he said.

But amid the dire predictions, blame-sharing and political partisan recriminations in the U.S. Thursday, there were some positive notes.

Ambassador Richardson at the United Nations said last night international support is building to pressure India and Pakistan to stop the arms race and ease tensions and Eagleburger said it is not too late to put the genie back in the bottle.

Some optimistic analysts say now that India and Pakistan have proved to each other and the world that they can make nuclear bombs, they may declare a moratorium on their weapons programs and agree to become the 150th and 151st nation to sign the global nuclear test-ban treaty.