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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 28, July 1998

US Wrestles With South Asia Sanctions As Talbott Leads Diplomatic Follow-up to Tests

On 26 June, the Senate established an 18-member task force to look at the remit and scope of US sanctions against India and Pakistan, following their nuclear tests in May. Although the task force's main remit is, in the words of Senate Majority Leader Lott, "to examine what can and should be done about the sanctions on India and Pakistan as a result of their nuclear programs," it is also to conduct a broader study (reporting to Congress by 1 September) of US non-proliferation sanctions policy. Lott added:

"There's a feeling on both sides of the aisle that perhaps the proclivity to place economic sanctions on countries around the world...with not a clear way of ending those [sanctions] has become a problem." The head of the task force was announced as Senator Mitch McConnell (Republican - Kentucky), who reflected candidly on 26 June: "I confess to being inconsistent myself, having supported sanctions in South Asia and opposed them in China. ... [We have to] see whether there's some kind of coherent way to go forward in this field."

On the recommendation of the task force, the Senate agreed on 15 July that President Clinton should have the power to waive any of the sanctions imposed against India and Pakistan for up to 12 months, in order to give the Administration a measure of flexibility in its attempts to persuade India and Pakistan to adhere to global non-proliferation norms. The Administration gave the Senate move only a limited welcome, arguing that it should have unlimited powers of waiver; State Department spokesperson James Rubin noted (15 July) that no waivers were currently contemplated.

On 14 July, President Clinton signed legislation exempting agricultural exports from the sanctions.

America's diplomatic efforts in South Asia are being spearheaded by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who visited India and Pakistan in late June. Speaking in New Delhi on 20 June, after talks with his counterpart Jaswant Singh, Talbott stated:

"We have established a very wide canvas on which we are seeing to paint, but we have a long way to go... We have had serious discussions...but have not reached a point that is conclusive. We are not there yet. We have a long way to go."

An Indian Foreign Ministry statement (20 July) noted: "There is now a clearer understanding of each other's concerns and certain steps in the direction of addressing those concerns are contemplated..."

Editor's note: the first meeting since the tests between Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took place in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 29 July, at the start of a three-day summit meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). The two leaders agreed to hold further talks - with dates and venues to be discussed by officials - on bilateral security issues, including Kashmir. See next issue for details.

Reports: Senate panel to study sanctions, Associated Press, 26 June; Talbott to visit Pakistan on July 22, United Press International, 13 July; Govt - sanctions bill falls short, Associated Press, 16 July; India cool on US sanctions move, Reuters, 16 July; US, India discuss nuclear weapons, Associated Press, 20 July.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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