U.S. nudges India, Pakistan on arms

April 10, 1994|By Los Angeles Times

NEW DELHI, India -- Despite some blunt public statements by Pakistan, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott voiced "high optimism" yesterday as he ended discussions there on regional nuclear arms control.

"I have just completed a very good day of talks in Islamabad," Mr. Talbott said after lunching with Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and meeting other high officials. "Much was accomplished today."

In his first trip abroad as Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher's top deputy, Mr. Talbott flew to the subcontinent Wednesday to try to reverse the decline in U.S. relations with India and Pakistan and to promote a plan for preventing nuclear brinkmanship between them.

The Clinton administration plan calls for separate but parallel approaches to India and Pakistan to encourage both to cap their nuclear programs.

In New Delhi, where Mr. Talbott met Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao on Friday, the reception was far from enthusiastic. Mr. Talbott was told that "we don't believe third parties should look for equality, parity or balance between Pakistan and India," one official source said.

Before Mr. Talbott's arrival in Islamabad, Ms. Bhutto flatly ruled out agreeing to unilateral inspections of her country's nuclear facilities as a way to obtain the high-performance warplanes, which Pakistan has paid for. U.S. law has prohibited delivery of the jets because Pakistan is suspected of building nuclear weapons.

In Mr. Talbott's discussions with Ms. Bhutto, President Farooq Leghari, Foreign Minister Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali and others, a more nuanced position than the one publicly expressed by the prime minister reportedly emerged.

The Pakistanis indicated that they are not opposed to outside inspections in principle. Instead, they reportedly said, a mechanism had to be devised to keep India from learning of the exact magnitude and achievements of a secretive program that the Islamabad government has always maintained is exclusively peaceful.

Uncertainty makes the program a more effective deterrent, the Pakistanis believe.

Also, the Pakistanis reportedly did not reject the tit-for-tat bargain with the United States that would lead to a verifiable cap on their nuclear program, but said India would have to commit to a similar arrangement so they could sell the deal to their public.

India's stand has been that it cannot agree to nuclear restrictions that do not also constrain China, its much more powerful neighbor.

Pakistan's response has been to propose a disarmament conference attended by China, the United States, Russia, Pakistan and India. But Indian officials did not approve that proposal in talks with Mr. Talbott.

India and Pakistan have acrimonious relations caused largely by their longstanding territorial dispute over Jammu-Kashmir.

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