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July 13, 1998

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Clinton visit linked to India signing CTBT

George Iype in New Delhi

The United States Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott has categorically conveyed to the Indian government that President Bill Clinton will visit the country later this year only if India takes immediate and adequate steps to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Official sources said the second round of diplomatic dialogue between the Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Jaswant Singh and Talbott in Frankfurt last week "did not bring any tangible results." Singh who is back in New Delhi, apprised Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee about his negotiations with the top US official. Talbott is said to have informed Singh that President Clinton wants India to sign the CTBT without any pre-conditions to ensure that the non-proliferation regime does not collapse. The US official also rejected the Vajpayee government's determination to have a minimum nuclear deterrence.

But Singh conveyed to the US deputy secretary of state that India is not ready to abide by the US restrictions on nuclear deterrence. Insisting that the nuclear deterrence issue is not negotiable under any circumstances, Singh said the government will continue to go ahead with its plans to weaponise. Singh also informed Talbott that the Vajpayee government's first priority is to get major concessions such as lifting economic sanctions before it could decide to join the CTBT.

While the Singh-Talbott dialogue in Frankfurt vis--vis the economic sanctions and the CTBT did not help remove the hurdles between India and the US, diplomatic observers believe their third round of exhaustive talks in New Delhi from July 20 will considerably thaw the strained Indo-US relations.

"Our real effort will be to ensure that the US grants India concessions by lifting the economic sanctions. Towards this end, we hope the Singh-Talbott talks will pick up momentum," said an official in the ministry of external affairs.

He said India is also striving hard to force the US to lift the 20-year old embargo on critical technology for the country's civil nuclear programme in exchange for signing on the CTBT.

"But we have to guard against the American intentions to link the CTBT with a negotiated settlement on the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan," the official added.

Meanwhile, India has sent key officials on a globe-trotting mission in an attempt to step up the diplomatic offensive in the wake of the nuclear tests. On Sunday Prime Minister Vajpayee's Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra left for South Africa in an effort to explain the rationale behind the country's decision to go nuclear, to President Nelson Mandela. Mishra's latest damage control mission is to convince Pretoria, a strong critic of the nuclear tests, about India's security concerns, especially as South Afria is all set to take over as the next chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement in August.

Top MEA official Nareshwar Dayal, secretary (east) will visit Syria and Lebanon from today onwards. In June, Dayal had visited Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman explaining why and how India was forced to conduct the nuclear tests.

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