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June 27, 1998


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Talbott deputed to 'contact' India, Pakistan regularly

The Clinton administration has deputed Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott as its ''lead official'' responsible for the US policy of engagement with India and Pakistan. This idea is to gradually sort out the United States' acute differences with the two countries on the sensitive nuclear issue.

Addressing mediapersons in Washington, Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs, Karl F Inderfurth, said Talbott had been designated by President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to be the administration's lead official on contacts with Indian and Pakistani officials on ''this immediate issue of the nuclear tests and its aftermath and how we go from here."

He said Talbott who met Prime Minister A B Vajpayee's special envoy Jaswant Singh in Washington on June 12, will have similar discussions with Pakistani officials beginning with its Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad Khan who is arriving in Washington on Monday, June 29.

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering will host a luncheon for Khan.

''The purpose of this senior-level dialogue is to restore the sense of confidence and direction we had hoped to build in advance of President Clinton's planned trip to the region in November, which is now under review. We want to see how much progress can be made by early fall before deciding whether the visits can take place,'' Inderfurth added.

He said Talbott had a ''good'' meeting with Jaswant Singh and ''we are looking forward to further contacts (with India).''

He said the US had a strong interest in keeping open the lines of communication with both India and Pakistan. ''We must remain engaged. And, while sanctions will exact a price, we must work with both governments to chart a path for the future. The future ideally will produce concrete actions by both governments to demonstrate a strong commitment to nuclear and missile restraint and to reducing regional tensions,'' he added.

Inderfurth said these actions should include signing and ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty without conditions, refraining from missile tests and agreeing not to weaponise or deploy missile systems, halting the production of missile material and participating constructively in negotiations towards a fissile material cut-off-treaty, formalising existing pledges not to export or transfer nuclear and missile technology or expertise and, for the sake of regional stability and prosperity, resuming direct dialogue to address the root causes of tensions, including Kashmir.

He said the international community would also remain focussed and working productively on these issues.

''Following on the P5 (five permanent members of the Security Council) and G8 (group of eight industrial nations) meetings, we will continue to encourage other nations and organisations to be involved,'' he said. ''We stand ready to share our expertise and capabilities to help India and Pakistan monitor military activities and avoid miscalculation, and above all, to assist the two in settling their differences.''

The assistant secretary said India and Pakistan already had in place confidence-building measures, such as non-attack on nuclear installations, limits on approach to each other's airspace, advance notification of military movements, and hotlines between the directors general of military operations and the prime ministers.

''We and others could help them establish more. Some examples include helping to establish agencies to verify agreements, sharing experience on inspections, helping with remote monitoring of borders, facilitating dialogue and strengthening agreements on observation of military exercises,'' he added.

Then, he made a ''final fundamental point''. ''While we do not accept the rationales given by India and Pakistan for testing or possessing nuclear weapons and believe that the tests have diminished their security, we must continue to recognise that as sovereign nations, both India and Pakistan have legitimate security concerns and interests, and, we must bear that in mind as we move forward, we have far too many national interests at stake to do anything other than engage under these terms.''

Asked as to what kind of progress he was looking for to consider a visit by the President, Inderfurth said, ''I think the progress that we are looking for is contained in part in the statement that I just read.''

He said it was more than a laundry list. ''We think that it is a framework for moving forward in our relations with India and Pakistan.'' Moreover, this was not a US-only list, it had the backing of the permanent five members of the Security Council (P5) in Geneva, followed by the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution, by the meeting of the G8 and other countries in London.

In reply to a question about the applicability of sanctions on the operations of the US banks in India, he said, ''We have no desire or intention to destroy the international banking system or to see the collapse of that banking system or the collapse of any economy as a result of the imposition of the Glenn Amendment sanctions. It is not our desire to punish, but to influence.''

To drive his point home, he drew attention to the World Bank loan that went through on Thursday. It was a demonstration that where ''we have spoken about humanitarian exceptions and basic human needs, that we are serious about seeing those programmes go through.''

He, however, said the US would be just as serious, as would its G-8 colleagues, about postponing those international financial institutional loans which did not meet the standards of basic human needs. The banking provisions of the Glenn Amendment sanctions are still being finalised by the treasury department. There would be an executive order on the issue soon.

When asked about the lifting of economic sanctions, he said, ''We will respond in a positive and quick fashion if India and Pakistan decide to take steps to address the nuclear and missile concerns of the international community, and resume their dialogue.''


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