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  • Asia Arms Race Report
  •   U.S. Urges Pakistan to Forgo Tests

    By Dan Balz
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, May 18, 1998; Page A01

    BIRMINGHAM, England, May 17—In the face of fresh indications that Pakistan is preparing for a nuclear test, President Clinton issued another urgent appeal today for that country to stand back from the brink, and he predicted that a show of restraint would produce economic, political and security benefits for it.

    Clinton spoke shortly after Pakistani officials, including Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan, suggested that Pakistan is close to responding to a series of bomb tests by India last week and India's declaration that it is a nuclear power.

    "It's a matter of when, not if, Pakistan will test," Khan told the Associated Press. "The decision has already been taken by [the] cabinet." Other officials said Pakistan is keeping its options open. [See story on Page A13.]

    Leaving a meeting with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Clinton told reporters: "I still have hopes that the prime minister [Nawaz Sharif] and the Pakistani government will not go through with a nuclear test. And I believe that we can, the rest of us who would support that, can work with them in a way that meets their security interests without the test."

    Clinton's comments came as the leaders of the major industrialized nations, known as the Group of Eight, concluded their annual meeting deeply divided over whether to impose sanctions on India, as the United States and others have done. A closing communique, while condemning the tests, contained only a vaguely worded statement saying India's relations with each of the powers "had been affected" by its testing.

    In Pakistan, government sources said the G-8's failure to take stronger action against India had strengthened the hand of hard-liners in Sharif's cabinet who advocate an immediate nuclear test. The sources said top commanders in the army, which frequently has the final say in Pakistani politics, also are pressing for action.

    Pakistani Information Minister Mushadid Hussain, speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation," described the G-8 decisions on India as "just a mild slap on the wrist, which means that there's no price tag for bad behavior."

    "We feel that India is getting away with it all," he added.

    For a third day, the prospect of a nuclear arms race on the Indian subcontinent overshadowed the G-8's deliberations. As the leaders gathered for their final meeting this morning, there was an unconfirmed report -- later denied -- that Pakistan already had conducted a nuclear test. The leaders spent part of the meeting sharing information gleaned from their own countries in trying to determine whether the report was true.

    Administration officials made clear that, after high-level talks in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, on Friday, they believe they have little direct leverage on Pakistan, other than the moral suasion Clinton has been attempting since India exploded five underground tests last week.

    Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who briefed Clinton on his Islamabad talks here this morning, said the U.S. delegation left believing Pakistani officials had not made a decision about testing, but without a clear sense of what might turn them away from doing so. "They made quite clear they didn't think there was any magic wand to be waved here," Talbott said.

    National security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger has hinted that there was a solution in the works to compensate Pakistan for F-16 fighters purchased in the late 1980s but never delivered because of sanctions levied in 1990.

    Speaking in televised interviews in Washington, three senators said they would support release of the F-16 fighters to Pakistan if the Islamabad government refrains from its own nuclear test.

    The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), and vice chairman Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.) said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that there would be immediate efforts to amend the defense authorization bill to strike the long-standing restrictions on military business with Pakistan, known as the Pressler amendment after former senator Larry Pressler.

    But Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), speaking on CBS, said that releasing the F-16s -- which he supports -- was unlikely to affect Pakistan's decision.

    During his television appearance, Information Minister Hussain spoke dismissively of the F-16s and Washington talk of easing the Pressler sanctions, describing them as "some goodies here and there." Hussain said three times, without elaborating, that his government sought more than a modest quid pro quo from Washington and that "our security needs are not yet being addressed fully."

    Talbott said Pakistan is not asking the United States or others for specific types of assistance. "They certainly didn't convey to us a wish list of things that, if we did them, they would then not test," he said. "They saw the problem in a much more both fundamental and sophisticated way than that."

    Clinton again appealed to Sharif to be a statesman, despite huge internal pressures to respond to India with Pakistan's own test. "I think that over the long run, and indeed before then, the political, the economic and the security interests of Pakistan and Pakistan's standing in the world would be dramatically increased if they walked away from a test," Clinton said.

    Responding to criticism that the G-8 had produced little more than rhetoric on the issue, Clinton said, "Every country condemned the Indian action, including countries that were very close to India. And every country said their relations would be affected by it. When I came here, that's the most I thought we could get."

    U.S. officials said some countries initially opposed using the word "condemn" in Friday's statement -- one measure of the wide differences among the eight nations over how to respond to the situation. The United States, Japan and Canada have announced sanctions against India; France, Britain and Russia have opposed sanctions.

    Even as he tried to nudge Pakistan away from testing, Clinton and his senior foreign policy advisers expressed determination to develop a strategy to reverse the course set by India before it becomes even more dangerous to the region. Clinton pledged a concerted effort once he returns from Europe.

    "The question now is how to limit the damage that was done and how to get those two important countries on the subcontinent moving back in the same direction as much of the rest of the world," Talbott said.

    Clinton's meeting with Yeltsin, the first since the Russian leader unexpectedly replaced his cabinet, covered a range of issues, but the question of nuclear proliferation weighed heavily in light of events.

    Clinton said developments in South Asia created "a greater sense of urgency" for Russia to ratify the START II treaty, which reduces nuclear stockpiles, and to begin negotiations on a START III treaty as part of an effort to change the proliferation debate "toward less, not more."

    Washington Post staff writer Barton Gellman, in Washington, and special correspondent Kamran Khan, in Karachi, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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