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|July 23, 1998||
US scientists protests against denial of visa to Chidambaram
The 41,000-member American Physical Society, a professional society of physicists, has protested against the denial of a US visa to prominent Indian nuclear scientist R Chidambaram to attend a meeting organised by the American Crystallographic Association in Washington this week.
Dr Chidambaram, chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission, is also vice-chairman of the International Union of Crystallographers, and he was to visit the US in that capacity.
Dr Irving A Lerch, director of the society's international affairs department, was quoted in Wednesday's New York Times as having said that even during the height of the Cold War, Soviet scientists had been granted visas to the United States. Not only did this allow some freedom to exchange scientific information, he said, but it also ''served as a confidence-building mechanism that helped to defuse crises in relations''.
American physicists feel that Washington is breaking the precedent by imposing political restraints on the free exchange of scientific information.
Dr Chidambaram is one of a number of Indian and Pakistani nuclear physicists whose requests for American visas have been placed under indefinite review by the state department in response to the nuclear bomb tests carried out by those two countries in May.
Another was Dr Srinath Chellavaraja, an expert in theoretical particle physics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Bombay. Dr Chellavaraja could not attend a meeting in Boulder, Colorado, recently.
Besides the nuclear tests, Dr Chidambaram has also annoyed the US administration with his recent role in India's purchase of two Russian reactors capable of producing plutonium that can be reprocessed to make bomb fuel.
Dr Lerch said the state department acceded to visa requests underwritten by the APS and that they got Cuban, Libyan and scientists of other countries. He clarified that the APS did not approve of the recent nuclear tests.
The NYT quoted state department spokesperson James P Rubin as denying that granting visas to Indian and Pakistani scientists would be analogous to the issuance of visas to Soviet scientists during the Cold War.
''We have a full-fledged broad and largely friendly relationship with both India and Pakistan, which was not the case during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. At that time, scientific and technical exchanges often had a value above and beyond the technical information that was being discussed.
Nature reported that Canada has informed the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna that it too ''would not welcome'' nuclear experts from India to meetings in Canada.
Nature also said that Britain has cut off contact with Indian and Pakistani nuclear researchers.
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