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|September 24, 1998||
Exclusive clause in CTBT holding India back
Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
Though the statements of Defence Minister George Fernandes and his scientific adviser A P J Abdul Kalam earlier this week on signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty appeared to be contradictory, external affairs ministry officials say the differences are more a matter of perception than any real conflict.
The officials pointed out that Kalam was speaking from the scientific community's point of view when he said India could now sign the CTBT. He said so because the nuclear tests on May 11 and 13 had yielded sufficient data for computer simulations, which are not prohibited under the treaty, thus precluding the need for any more real tests.
It is not as if the defence minister does not agree with this view. His objection to the treaty relates to the clause under which nuclear tests can be resumed in the event of a grave threat to national security.
At present, the clause is restricted to the Big 5 -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France. Though they are not named as exclusively enjoying the privilege, they are the only recognised nuclear powers under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. And as the prime minister himself has admitted, any revision of the CTBT at this juncture to accommodate Indian interests is not possible as it has been signed by more than 140 countries. As a result, it is implied that only the Big 5 will have the privilege.
Fernandes feels New Delhi should not sign the treaty until it is clear if it can invoke the clause in the event of a grave threat to Indian security. This is the point on which the talks between Vajpayee's special envoy Jaswant Singh and US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott have centred.
The officials hoped the next round of talks would narrow down the differences.
Significantly, one of the Big 5, France, has announced that it acknowledges India as a nuclear power. The original formulation against the Indian nuclear tests by the Big 5 and the G-8, both of which include France, was unanimous. The new French stance shows that some of these countries are willing to reconsider their stand.
The officials said the Russians and the British are also willing to acknowledge India's new status. Only the Chinese are opposed to India joining the exclusive nuclear club. The Americans are merely trying to drive a hard bargain before accepting the fait accompli.
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