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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 58, June 2001

News Review

South Asia Sanctions Under Spotlight

The Bush administration appears to be moving towards a speedy lifting of sanctions against India and Pakistan, imposed following the states' May 1998 nuclear tests. On June 15, visiting South Asia, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was reported as stating: "It's very hard to walk people back [from a nuclear weapons programme]... They didn't do it under sanctions or do it under pressure." The same day, an unnamed White House official told reporters that the administration would prefer a simultaneous lifting of sanctions against both countries: "We're going to do it together if we can."

The issue is complicated by the lack of a democratically elected government in Pakistan. On June 20, the country's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, divested himself of the title of Chief Executive, assumed when he led the overthrow of the government of Nawaz Sharif in October 1999, and donned the mantle of President, dismissing the incumbent holder of the office Rafiq Tarrar. Speaking a few hours after the announcement, State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher was clear about the negative impact of the move, at least with regard to a subset of the sanctions, imposed after the military takeover: "We are very concerned and very disappointed that Pakistan takes another turn away from democracy, rather than, as we had hoped, a step toward democracy. ... Pakistan, we believe, should understand that US sanctions imposed because of the military coup cannot be lifted until the President determines that a democratically-elected government has taken office."

Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Abdul Sattar, visiting Washington when news of Musharraf's self-appointment as President broke, stated calmly (June 20) that "we are moving in that direction [toward a restoration of democracy] and we are quite prepared to be judged on our performance." Sattar and Secretary of State Colin Powell met for talks on June 19. Addressing a joint press conference, Powell observed: "We talked about sanctions, and we talked about how one gets through the process of eventually lifting sanctions. And we will be dealing with all of these issues as we move forward in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation." Sattar reported: "We talked also about nuclear issues, and I have informed the Secretary of State that Pakistan will maintain the moratorium on nuclear tests, that Pakistan will not be the first country to resume testing in the future, as we were not the first country to conduct tests in the past." Also on June 19, Boucher was questioned about Powell's treatment of the nuclear testing issue:

"Question: 'Considering that this administration doesn't think the CTBT is a good idea, is there a position on this now in relation to Pakistan?'

Boucher: 'The Pakistani Foreign Minister indicated...that they intended to maintain their moratorium on testing indefinitely. And the Secretary praised that and said that was very important to us. That was the thrust of our policy discussion.'

Question: 'So those letters [CTBT] never came up?'

Boucher: "No, I don't remember those letters coming up, at least not together.' [Laughter.]

Question: '... So then this is no longer a priority for the United States...in dealing with...India and Pakistan?'

Boucher: 'The important thing to the United States is that nuclear developments not be carried any farther, and to that extent the emphasis...has been that here not be any further testing. ... That is what we have asked them to stick with.'"

Note: on June 18, Sattar addressed the Carnegie International Non-Proliferation Conference in Washington, setting out "the case against sanctions... Our hope is that an administration that attaches...value to 50 years of friendship and cooperation...will be equitable...and not maintain these sanctions which in my view have become counterproductive. ... [These measures] deny Pakistan not merely economic assistance and military sales, but even spare parts for the equipment we purchase... [Such constraints produce a] consequent increase in reliance on strategic deterrence." See Documents and Sources for further extracts from the Foreign Minister's remarks.

Reports: US to lift sanctions on India, clearing way for expanded ties, Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, June 15; Pakistan urges US to lift sanctions, Reuters, June 18; Pakistan appeals for sanction curbs, Associated Press, June 18; Excerpt - Powell confers with Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Washington File, June 19; Transcript - remarks by Powell, Pakistan Foreign Minister Sattar, Washington File, June 19; New Pakistan President sworn in, Associated Press, June 20; US condemns Pakistan Presidency move, Reuters, June 20.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.