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June 18, 1998


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Fernandes calls US nuclear policy 'hypocritical'

Defence Minister George Fernandes has criticised the US nuclear policy as ''hypocritical,'' questioning President Clinton's rationale in trusting China with nuclear weapons whiling punishing India for seeking a deterrent against threats from its nuclear-armed neighbours -- China and Pakistan.

''I would ask Bill Clinton only one question,'' Fernandes said in an interview to The New York Times, a week before the American president's 9-day state visit to China.

''And it would be this: Why is it that you feel yourself so close to China, that you can trust China with nuclear weapons, just as you can trust yourselves with nuclear weapons, and you can trust the Russians and the French and the British, but you cannot trust India?''

He called American policies on nuclear weapons as ''hypocritical'' because they sought to entrench the arsenals of the five established nuclear powers -- the US, Russia, Britain, France and China -- while ''shutting out countries like India that believe they need nuclear weapons for their own defence.''

Fernandes said Indian leaders had noted recent news reports in which Clinton administration officials had spoken of the United States and China becoming ''strategic partners'' and of plans for an agreement that neither side would aim nuclear missiles at the other.

At the same time, he said, the US was leading efforts to punish India with economic sanctions for its underground nuclear tests last month.

According to the daily, he hinted at the kind of nuclear arsenal India intends to develop in the wake of the five nuclear tests it conducted and the six tests Pakistan carried out in response.

He said the Indian arsenal would be only enough to act as a deterrent to potential aggressors, and that India would not get drawn into the kind of nuclear arms race that led the United States and the Soviet Union to amass huge nuclear stockpiles.

''If we had to go nuclear, it was for the purpose of possessing a nuclear deterrent that would enable us to tackle some of the threats that we faced, only that.'' He described these threats as coming primarily from ''across the border to the north,'' meaning from China and Pakistan. He said Islamabad had been aided by transfers of nuclear and missile technology from China.

India would be prepared to forgo even this minimal deterrent, Fernandes said, if the established nuclear powers agreed to renegotiate existing nuclear limitation agreements to provide for the elimination of all nuclear arsenals. This has been India's policy for decades, but it has been rejected by the United States and the other nuclear powers, which have insisted on the right to maintain their arsenals.

Fernandes, who had been a long-standing opponent of nuclear weapons, said he could not accept the attitude of Western powers on nuclear issues, which seemed to be that they were responsible enough to handle nuclear weapons, while India and Pakistan were not.

"I don't know why India and Pakistan should be seen as blowing each other up, when nuclear weapons in the hands of the United States and China are seen as stabilising factors," he said.

Referring to the nuclear stand-off between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, he said even at the height of the Cold War, everybody kept their cool, even at the 11th hour. Now to believe that this is a prerogative reserved to nations that have 10,000 nuclear warheads each, and not to nations that don't even have a stockpile, that is unfair."


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