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India and Pakistan Begin Their First Nuclear Talks

June 20, 2004|From Reuters

NEW DELHI — India and Pakistan on Saturday began their first talks on how to reduce the risk of nuclear war, six years after each successfully tested fission weapons.

The two days of meetings in New Delhi come a week before broader high-level talks.

"Both sides approached the talks in a positive framework, aimed at taking the process forward, and making them result-oriented," India's Foreign Ministry said in a brief statement after the first day's session.

The two sides are expected to discuss the establishment of a hotline to prevent any sudden nuclear escalation.

Pakistan's acting foreign secretary, Tariq Usman Haider, is leading an eight-member team for the discussions with senior Indian Foreign Ministry official Sheel Kant Sharma and others. The delegations also paid a courtesy call on Indian Foreign Minister K. Natwar Singh.

The nuclear talks were delayed a month by India's elections. They come a week before talks between Foreign Ministry officials from both countries about the disputed region of Kashmir. The conflict in the Himalayan area has delayed the nuclear negotiations for six years.

"The aim of the talks is to agree on the broad agenda for future talks. It is unrealistic to expect a quick breakthrough. It took the superpowers over 30 years to break their nuclear impasse," defense analyst Jasjit Singh said.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, where Muslim militants are fighting New Delhi's forces in the portion held by India.

The two countries' armies fought heavy clashes in Kashmir in 1999 and came close to war in mid-2002 after insurgents based in Pakistan attacked India's Parliament in December 2001, triggering international fears of a nuclear exchange.

Each side has an arsenal of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. New Delhi's stated policy is not to strike first with nuclear weapons, but Pakistan, worried about India's growing conventional military superiority, has made no such pledge.

More high-level diplomatic contact is to take place Monday, when Foreign Minister Singh is scheduled to meet his Pakistani counterpart, Mian Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, on the sidelines of a conference in China.

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