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US To Push For Asian Moratorium On Nuclear Weapons Says Rice

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (R) shakes hands with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Apr 06, 2006
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday the United States would push for a South Asian moratorium on nuclear weapons production to ease tensions between India and Pakistan.

"We would like to see, obviously, in the regional sense in the relationship between India and Pakistan and others, a look at regional moratorium on fissile material production," Rice told a Congressional hearing on a landmark US-India civilian nuclear deal.

"We've made it very clear that we would encourage that; that we would encourage India and Pakistan to look at their nuclear relationship and the way that in some of the earlier days people were concerned about safety and security between the US and Soviet arsenals," she said.

Fissile material is plutonium or highly enriched uranium that can be used for nuclear explosive devices.

Rice was replying to Democratic Senator John Kerry on whether the United States could offer "real leadership" is trying to bring together the nuclear-armed neighbours, neither of whom are signatories to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Kerry, the failed Democratic candidate in the last presidential election, said that it was hard to understand why India and Pakistan would need to continue to build nuclear weapons at levels beyond an adequate deterrent between each other and China, an NPT signatory.

Kerry said he had raised this with Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf and "there seemed to be a genuine spark of interest in the notion of trying to arrive at some agreement regionally on the numbers of nuclear weapons."

Rice said the United States was unable to get an undertaking from the South Asian nations on nuclear controls.

"Well, what we couldn't achieve -- and I think it was unlikely -- was a constraint unilaterally by any one state," she said.

"But the idea that has been pursued in some second-track arrangements, some second-track of discussions between the parties about not just absolute levels but also safety and security and confidence-building measures, I think is something we're very interested in and we'd like to pursue," she said.

US relations with India and Pakistan were improving rapidly "that might make it worthwhile," she added. "I can't say that it's going to have an immediate payoff. These things are hard."

India conducted nuclear weapons tests in May 1998 and Pakistan in a tit-for-tat response detonated its own devices a few days later.

The rivals have fought three wars, two of them over the Himalayan region of Kashmir which is divided between them and claimed in full by both.

After coming close to another war in 2002, in January 2004 they began talks to resolve their disputes, including over Kashmir.

The two exchange lists of their nuclear facilities annually in line with a 1988 accord under which they agreed to refrain from attacking each other's nuclear facilities in the event of a war.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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