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U.S. Praises South Asian Nuclear Talks

By Mike Nartker

Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON — The United States yesterday praised the results of talks held last weekend by India and Pakistan on nuclear confidence-building measures and expressed hope that the two South Asian rivals would continue their efforts to reduce the risk of nuclear war in the region (see GSN, June 21).

On June 19-20, India and Pakistan held expert-level talks in New Delhi that resulted in an agreement to establish a nuclear “hot line” between the two countries’ foreign secretaries. India and Pakistan also agreed to maintain their respective nuclear test moratoriums, except in the event of “extraordinary events” jeopardizing national security; to develop an agreement on advanced notification of ballistic missile flight tests; and to work to implement a 1999 agreement on nuclear risk reduction measures.

The U.S. State Department said yesterday that it hoped India and Pakistan would continue their efforts to engage each other.

“We do think this is an opportunity for them to make further progress and comprehensive engagement, while at the same time, agreeing on concrete steps to lower the risk of accidental or intentional use of nuclear weapons. So we do think there are opportunities here and we are glad to see the parties are pursuing them,” department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

The talks are “quite encouraging,” said Teresita Schaffer, director of the South Asian program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. 

While no major breakthroughs were made, the nuclear hot line proposal was significant in helping India and Pakistan to avoid entering into a nuclear war based on an unintended incident, Schaffer said. While a communications link between the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries had previously existed “in principle,” it was rarely used, she said.

Schaffer also praised the two countries’ plans to develop formal procedures for prenotification of missile tests, saying it would help improve the confidence the nations’ leaders placed in the information received. 

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a professor of nuclear physics at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, characterized the talks today, though, as mere “eyewash.”

“The goal is to create an impression that India and Pakistan are ‘responsible nuclear states’ while, at the same time, keeping the speed of nuclearization at the maximum possible allowed by economic and technical limitations,” he said.

Last weekend’s talks were held as part of a joint peace dialogue India and Pakistan launched earlier this year. The next planned step in the dialogue is a meeting scheduled for June 27-28 between the Indian and Pakistani foreign secretaries.

Boucher yesterday praised India and Pakistan’s progress to date in conducting the peace dialogue.

“We applaud the efforts that are being made by India and Pakistan to try to make progress in their bilateral dialogue,” he said. “We’re glad to see that these [discussions] are going forward and we … really appreciate the efforts on both sides to reduce tensions,” Boucher added.

Meanwhile, Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh and Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri yesterday praised the results of last weekend’s talks during a meeting on the sidelines of a regional summit held in China, according to the Indian External Affairs Ministry. 

During the meeting, the first direct contact between the two since the Congress Party came to power in India, Singh and Kasuri also expressed support for the planned foreign secretaries meeting, which they hope would result in “concrete outcomes” that would help move the peace dialogue forward, a ministry spokesperson said yesterday. Singh and Kasuri are expected to meet again “on several occasions” over the next two months, the spokesperson added.

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