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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 34, February 1999

Guarded Optimism in South Asian Nuclear Discussions

In late January and early February, US officials led by Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott held the eighth round of discussions with delegations from India and Pakistan since the two countries' nuclear tests in May 1998. The principal, immediate objectives of the US side are to persuade the two States not to deploy nuclear weapons or conduct further tests, and to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) this year. By mid-February, there were strong indications that both countries were prepared to sign the test ban, possibly in the next few months, in the expectation that this would lead both to the lifting of sanctions - already relaxed and restricted - imposed after the tests, and to increased aid and trade.

In New Delhi on 31 January, the following joint statement was issued by the US and India:

"The eighth round of the US-India dialogue on issues relating to security, disarmament and non-proliferation has concluded. During the three days of talks, 29-31 January, there were four plenary meetings of the two delegations as well as expert-level discussions and several more restricted sessions between the two heads of delegation, Mr. Strobe Talbott and Mr. Jaswant Singh [Minister for External Affairs]. General Ralston held separate consultations with several senior Indian military officials on a variety of issues of mutual concern, including resumption of bilateral cooperation in some areas.

Both delegations are satisfied with the outcome of the talks. As with earlier meetings, the security perspectives of the two sides were further elaborated and clarified and proposals for harmonising these perspectives were explored. The delegations believe progress was made in several of the subjects under discussion and remain committed to achieving more progress in the weeks ahead.

In this regard, a work plan for the next steps in the US-Indian dialogue was agreed. US and Indian delegations at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva will endeavour to consult frequently on the status of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) and the possibility of multilateral initiatives. Finally, Mr. Talbott and Mr. Singh will remain in close contact. While these contacts continue, both sides will endeavour to create a positive atmosphere for advancing their relations. A ninth round of the dialogue is envisioned towards the middle of the year, the dates and venues to be determined..."

In Islamabad on 2 February, the following joint statement was issued by the US and Pakistan:

"The eighth round of Pakistan-US dialogue on South Asian security and non-proliferation was held on 1-2 February, 1999. The respective delegations were led by the Pakistan Foreign Secretary, Mr. Shamshad Ahmad, and [Mr. Talbott]... The talks were held in a positive and constructive atmosphere. ...

Both sides shared the view that they should make further efforts for the promotion of durable peace and stability in the region. The US expressed its strong support for the current talks between Pakistan and India, including on Kashmir. Pakistan urged the US to play a more active role towards the solution of the Kashmir dispute.

The two sides considered further steps to advance the objectives of the Pakistan-US dialogue. They agreed to hold further expert level meetings on export controls and strategic restraint in March/April. The two sides agreed to remain in close touch during the negotiations on the FMCT...in the Conference on Disarmament. Pakistan reiterated its position on the CTBT...as enunciated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his address to the UNGA [in which he stated his intention, broader considerations permitting, to sign the Treaty by September 1999]...

The next round of the dialogue will be held before the middle of the year, with the dates and venue to be determined..."

The evidently constructive atmosphere created by the talks may have been instrumental in the apparent cancellation by India of test-firings of its medium-range Privthi (Earth) and long-range Agni [Fire] missiles, widely reported in the Indian media to have been scheduled for 26 January.

In Washington on 10 February, returning from a 10-day visit to the region, Talbott told reporters he now had "a clearer sense of not only what the two Prime Ministers want to achieve, working with their Parliaments, but also a rough calendar on when they might be able to achieve it." Referring to the prospects of the two States signing CTBT this year, Talbott added: "We have to be sensitive to the need that both Prime Ministers have to work with their Parliaments and their parliamentary oppositions. I am convinced that both Prime Ministers are doing so. That means they are trying to build up the requisite political support for...progress of the kind that we believe is very much in their interest as well as ours..." Asked about the issue of formulating a clear nuclear posture, Talbott observed:

"[W]e had very intense discussions on the need for both countries to translate the phraseology that they use, which is 'credible minimal deterrence', into actual policies and doctrine...[so that] the rest of the world, including their neighbours, will recognize those policies and actions as being consistent with what they have said. ... [However, the US position on how much is enough is very simple: zero. ... We're not going to be in the position of implying that any number higher than zero is perfectly fine with us..."

In Islamabad in mid-February, members of the Indian and Pakistani Parliaments met at a conference organised by Pakistan's Jang group of newspapers to discuss a range of bilateral issues, prominent among them the aftermath of the tests. According to Imtiaz Alam, one of the conference organisers, people and politicians in both countries had to act quickly to "save this beloved subcontinent of ours from nuclear catastrophe." Speaking on 12 February, Alam added: "Pakistan and India are entrapped in both declared and undeclared wars and a most costly arms race which their economies cannot afford." The same day, Aitzaz Ahsan, leader of the opposition in Pakistan's Upper House, the Senate, stated bleakly: "We cannot continue on the path of nuclear contention and arms competition. If we do, Pohkaran [India's test site] and Chagai [Pakistan's site] will have blasted our dreams out of orbit... Given the present mindset on both sides, that remains a real possibility."

On 11 February, it was announced that India's Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, would visit Pakistan on 20 February, travelling on the inaugural journey of the first ever commercial bus service between the two countries - see Documents and Sources for material from the visit.

Reports: India postpones missile tests, Associated Press, 21 January; India won't give up nukes, Associated Press, 28 January; Text - US, India issue joint statement at conclusion of talks, United States Information Service, 1 February; US says India talks show progress, Reuters, 1 February; Text - US, Pakistan joint statement following talks, Feb 2, United States Information Service, 2 February; Transcript - Talbott, Ahmad statements on US, Pakistan talks, Feb 2, United States Information Service, 2 February; India, US shirk nuclear deal for progressive steps, Reuters, 3 February; US sees movement on India-Pakistan nuclear issue, Reuters, 10 February; India leader to visit Pakistan, Associated Press, 11 February; Indian and Pakistani lawmakers meet, Reuters, 12 February; Pakistan, India talks continue, Associated Press, 12 February.

© 1999 The Acronym Institute.

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