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July 14, 1998


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US asks Congress for power to waive economic sanctions

The Clinton administration has asked Congress for a blanket authority to waive nuclear-related economic sanctions, but promised not to utilise that authority unless India and Pakistan make ''substantial progress'' towards non-proliferation goals, including the signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Testifying before the Senate foreign relations sub-committee on near east and South Asian affairs on Monday, Assistant Secretary of State Karl F Inderfurth said the waiver would give the US more leverage in negotiating a non-proliferation deal with the two South Asian rivals.

He, however, made it clear that ''our discussion of these matters should not leave India and Pakistan with the impression that a lifting of sanctions is imminent.''

''Affirmative, positive steps will be necessary by parties both if sanctions are to be lifted and our relationship restored to where it had been heading prior to the event of May (the nuclear tests), including the presidential visit later this year,'' he added.

Inderfurth referred to the discussions that Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott had of late been having with senior officials of the two countries, and said ''it appears we are making progress in defining the principles that will underpin US relations with India and Pakistan in the post-test environment, in laying out non-proliferation and other objectives, and in discussing the steps and activities that will be necessary to get us there.''

''We will not let our current momentum slip: the deputy secretary plans to travel to both Islamabad and New Delhi next week,'' he added.

Talbott will be accompanied by Inderfurth, vice-chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, General Joseph Ralston and National Security Council senior director for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs Bruce Reidel.

Earlier, Inderfurth asked for waiver in the Glenn, Pressler and Symington amendments -- the three US domestic laws dealing with proliferation. The US invoked the 1994 Glenn Amendment to slap sanctions on India and Pakistan after their nuclear tests in May. The 1985 Pressler Amendment was used in 1990 by the then Bush administration to deny US economic and military aid to Islamabad in protest against its nuclear weapons programme and the Symington Amendment which came into existence after India's 1974 test was used against Pakistan before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

"We do not believe it would be advisable, nor could we support efforts to codify or legislate the steps that India and Pakistan would need to take in order to gain relief from sanctions, or to match specific actions by India or Pakistan to the lifting of particular sanctions," he added.

He said writing such steps into a law would create the impression that India and Pakistan would be acting under pressure and simply to ensure the lifting of US sanctions. "This would greatly constrain our chances of achieving the outcomes we seek."

"Our purpose is not to punish for punishment's sake, but to influence the behaviour of both governments," Inderfurth said adding, "We do not wish for unnecessary harm to fall on the civilian populations of either country or on US businesses."

He said the sanctions, required by law, were too rigid and that the United States would have more leverage if it also had the power to waive them.

The senate last week voted 98-0 to exempt wheat and other agricultural exports from the sanctions imposed on India and Pakistan in May after their nuclear tests.

Sub-committee chairman Senator Sam Brownback (Republican), who heads the congressional panel which is looking into the sanction issue, said the law-makers were working on a new legislation to enhance the president's waiver authority for India and Pakistan. ''Its features include an immediate nine-month waiver on current sanctions, to be followed by a graduated waiver based upon presidential certification that India and Pakistan have made progress in the requisite areas,'' he added.

Brownback, who visited New Delhi and Islamabad two weeks ago to study the situation, said, ''We have laid down markers where India and Pakistan can demonstrate progress against these important non-proliferation objectives. They must range from increasing transparency and adopting confidence building measures to joining the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.''

Brownback, a sponsor of that legislation, agreed with the administration that the sanctions could bring harm to the economies of both India and Pakistan in the midst of the current Asian financial crisis.

''The economic situation there was not very good before we imposed sanctions, particularly in Pakistan, and now it is even worse,'' he added.

Inderfurth also said, ''We are deeply troubled that Pakistan's leadership does not appear to be taking the necessary steps to deal with the country's difficult economic situation.''

About India, he said its policy-makers or commentators to-date had not shown a serious recognition that these sanctions, much less the underlying structural inequities, required serious economic policy adjustments.

He said the introduction of rather lacklustre Budget by the government only weeks after the nuclear tests took place underscored that point. ''We are concerned that these developments, which come in the midst of significant economic turmoil in Asia, will put at risk all of the important economic progress that India has made since the onset of liberalisation,'' he added.

He said the administration would like to see both India and Pakistan agree to conduct no further tests, sign the CTBT, refrain from attaching their nuclear weapons to missiles they do have, halt the production of weapons material and seek peace in the territory of Kashmir.

He said these were not demands as ''countries don't like to be dictated to. We fully recognise that New Delhi and Islamabad will have to assess them in light of their own national security requirements.''


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