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The Rediff Special/ J N Dixit
Indo-US Relations: Cause for optimism
There is a fifth benchmark stated by the US delegation in the South Asian regional security context: that India and Pakistan must practice strategic restraint in relation to each other in the context of their nuclear weaponisation and commence purposive negotiations to resolve the Kashmir issue. The Indian response to these benchmarks, as far as it is available, could be summed up on the following lines:
India has given indications that it would be willing to sign the CTBT before September 1999 subject to certain modifications of policies of the nuclear weapon powers and industrially advanced countries towards India, moving away from the punitive stance that they have taken against India. India has also announced a moratorium on further tests.
Dr R Chidambaram, chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, speaking to journalists specialising in science and technology on February 3, clearly stated that India does not need to undertake further nuclear weapon tests for some time to come.
India has indicated her willingness to participate in the FMCT negotiations, conveying the clear expectation that the FMCT will be a non-discriminatory agreement, its stipulations being applied equally to all signatories including the recognised nuclear weapon powers. India has conveyed that it will conduct further tests of the Agni missile to ensure its operational strategic adequacy for Indian defence.
India has indicated that its export control policies on nuclear material, nuclear and missile technologies, are already in line with stipulated international standards. India has indicated its commitment to continue the dialogue with Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir problem as well as other problems.
The Indian side has also pointed out that while India was responsive to the concerns of the United States as well as the international community regarding non-proliferation and related issues as manifested in the above response, the United States continued not only with bilateral sanctions but with a restraining approach about the flow of assistance from multilateral financial institutions to India.
It was stressed that an irrational punitive approach towards India would be counter-productive, because India will somehow manage to face the consequences of the sanctions despite the difficulties that they create and at the same time Indian public opinion will consider India's positive non-proliferation orientations as a futile exercise.
That Deputy Secretary Talbott and his colleagues saw some logic in the Indian arguments is proved by the fact of certain responsive trends in US policies. While insisting that India and Pakistan will not be given formal recognition as nuclear weapon powers. Talbott stated the US accepts it is an irreversible fact that India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons. Assistant Secretary Inderfurth articulated the US move towards a practical approach when he stated just before his recent New Delhi visit that 'major challenges are not so much about the prevention but the management of thresholds that have already been crossed.'
The macro-level positive trends discernible from the recent round of negotiations are that both sides have agreed on continuing the current process of constructive engagement. Second, that there is a marginal acceptance of India's security requirements in terms of nuclear and missile capacities. Third, that India is willing to join the mainstream of the international non-proliferation agenda, hoping that while doing so, it can still retain its substantive options to maintain its own security.
The concrete results of the visit are that technical consultations would continue on the CTBT, the FMCT, export control regime and defence postures, which would be followed by international political level discussions this summer. It has been agreed that the United States and Indian delegations will have consultations with each other at the Committee on Disarmament in Geneva when negotiations for the FMCT commence. The US has agreed to gradually resume defence co-operation with India, which was suspended after the Pokhran tests.
Discussions will be held between the two sides on the technical aspects of export control of nuclear and missile technology. There are reasons to be optimistic that Indo-US relations will gradually get back on track despite substantive differences of views on non-proliferation related issues. This positive development should, however, remain subject to the imperative of India retaining its strategic autonomy in changing times into the 21st century.
J N Dixit, a former foreign secretary, occasionally contributes to these pages.
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