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August 25, 1998


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Jaswant-Talbott agree to meet yet again

Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi

Even as the ministry of external affairs today described the fourth round of the Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbott talks as "positive, candid and constructive," neither India nor the US have arrived at any date for the fifth round of talks between the US deputy secretary of state and the prime minister's special emissary.

The MEA's official spokesman pointed out that Jaswant Singh met a wide range of Clinton administration officials during his fourth round talks with Talbott to iron out differences between the two countries in the wake of India's nuclear tests.

A significant aspect which emerged from the talks was that the two sides agreed that US President Bill Clinton's visit to India should take place in a positive environment, which both sides were committed to. However, the very fact that both India and the US were striving to create a positive environment indicated that the niggling differences between them persists despite the laudatory statements pertaining to the fourth round talks.

According to the official spokesman, the camaraderie between Singh and Talbott and their respective delegations was apparent from the level of the talks. It was underscored that the private meal hosted by the US deputy secretary of state for the visiting Indian dignitary, was cooked by Talbott's wife, and that two surprise visitors included US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger.

This apart, Singh was given a detailed briefing on Afghanistan by senior Clinton administration officials during his visit to the Pentagon. US vice-chief of joint staff General Joseph Ralston received him.

In the morning, Singh visited the National Defense University and spent four hours at the department of energy. At a dinner hosted by General Ralston, two former US national security advisors, Antony Lake and General Brent Scowcroft were also present.

Meanwhile, senior MEA officials told Rediff On The NeT that despite the persisting differences between the two sides, both India and the US are striving to reach a mutually-acceptable compromise on the vexed questions of nuclear non-proliferation and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

The officials underlined that from the US standpoint, concessions to India on these two issues should be subtle and pacify Indian apprehensions about its security needs. It was pointed out that unofficial reports emanating from Washington indicated that Talbott acknowledged a Sino-Pak nuclear collaboration and how Beijing was trying to browbeat India through its proxy, Islamabad.

The officials said Talbott was also reported to have acknowledged US failure to persuade China to stop its clandestine nuclear proliferation activity. Therefore, the question is how to protect India's legitimate security concerns without substantially altering the existing framework on nuclear non-proliferation.

They pointed out that from the Indian standpoint, Singh is supposed to have argued that the damage has already been done by the Sino-Pak nuclear axis and now the question that needs to be addressed was more of damage limitation exercise.

According to the officials, Jaswant Singh is reported to have argued that in the BJP-led ruling coalition, Pakistan is never a factor of concern and China remains a major security threat. Therefore, India's nuclear explosion has to be viewed within the context of Beijing's regional and global aspirations in the years to come.

It was pointed out that the solution that is being talked about in the Pakistani media is that the Indian demand for being declared a nuclear weapon power and giving it a permanent seat in the UN Security Council was on the cards. But the Chinese are vehemently opposed to this formula as it will threaten Beijing's status as an exclusive power representing Asia in the Security Council.

It was stressed that the Russians, the British and the French are not opposed to this type of deal between the US and India, provided New Delhi was willing to be a signatory to the NPT and CTBT in their existing form. The virtual slowdown of US tirade against India and the latter's muted reaction to the recent bombings by the US in Afghanistan and Sudan indicate that moves are afoot by both sides to evolve a compromise formula. Since the fourth round of the Jaswant-Talbott talks were held against the backdrop of US bombings on Khost training camps, there is a commonality of interests in curbing international terrorism. This may be a talking point on which both sides are willing to cooperate at any given point of time, it was emphasised.

Thus, the Jaswant-Talbott talks should be seen as a step towards normalisation of Indo-US relations through a policy of give and take, the MEA officials added.

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