U.S. offers softer line on India Easing of sanctions linked to test-ban pact

May 19, 1998|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- After failing to win international support for wielding a big stick against India for conducting nuclear tests, the United States is dangling a carrot, suggesting that it would ease sanctions imposed last week if India joins a nuclear test-ban treaty.

"If India signs that treaty and doesn't do any more testing, I think a lot of this international condemnation, all of these sanctions, will be reduced. We hope that happens," Bill Richardson, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a television interview yesterday.

The change came less than a week after the White House imposed tough economic sanctions against India for conducting its first nuclear weapons tests in 24 years. At the same time, the White House was reported to be investigating the possibility of easing penalties imposed in the past on Pakistan, India's rival neighbor.

Richardson's softer tone drew sharp criticism from Pakistan, with an embassy official in Washington charging that it amounted to "rewarding India."

It also surprised arms control advocates, who fear that India's test will not only fuel an arms race with Pakistan but encourage other countries with nuclear ambitions.

"In light of the fact that Pakistan is on the verge of testing a nuclear device, which we are trying to dissuade them from doing, to talk of lifting sanctions on India at this moment is very unfortunate timing," said Leonard Weiss, an aide to Sen. John Glenn, Democrat of Ohio, who was the author of the sanctions law invoked last week.

'Worthless act'

"If there is no constraint on how many weapons [India] could build, signing the CTBT is likely to be a worthless act in terms of stopping an arms race in South Asia," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington think tank.

The CTBT, or Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1996 and signed by 149 countries.

Since the U.S. sanctions were required by federal law, it would take a congressional vote, in the form of a joint resolution, to lift them.

Although India's test generated worldwide outrage and condemnation over the weekend, the only countries to join the United States in levying punishment were Japan, the Netherlands and Sweden. The weekend summit of industrialized countries, or Group of Eight, in Birmingham, England, produced a statement of condemnation but no agreement on sanctions.

Clinton's sympathy

At a news conference before leaving England yesterday, President Clinton expressed a measure of sympathy for India and Pakistan, saying a way must be found to satisfy the national and security aspirations of both.

"Pakistan has been a good ally of ours," Clinton said. "India has been, arguably, the most successful democracy in history in the last 50 years because they've preserved a democracy in the face of absolutely overwhelming diversity and difficulty." He added, "We've got to find a way out of this."

The U.S. sanctions would have an impact not only on India's economy but on any American firms that depend on government financing, such as loans from the Export-Import Bank.

Sanctions' bite

Economically, the sanctions are quite severe, costing India between 1 percent and 2 percent of its gross domestic product, says Michael Krepon, president of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a think tank specializing in arms control.

India also will deepen its isolation at the United Nations, where it was widely criticized two years ago for trying to block adoption of the CTBT, he said, and will be unlikely to get a rotating seat on the Security Council in the near future.

While India could have expected the punishment and criticism it has received, the test has been greeted joyously by an overwhelming number of Indians.

Rolf Ekeus, Sweden's ambassador to Washington and a leading disarmament figure, said he is worried that nations in the developing world may applaud India's test as a rebuke to the five declared nuclear states.

U.S. frustrations

The Clinton administration's shift appeared to reflect frustration in trying to halt the arms race in South Asia. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott failed to win a pledge from Pakistan not to test, although statements by top officials there have sent mixed signals. Some Washington analysts believe Pakistan will test a nuclear missile delivery system very soon.

"Old ideas aren't going to get us out of this box," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Pub Date: 5/19/98

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