U.S., India Discuss Nuke Policy

Top U.S. and Indian officials held "constructive" talks Monday over New Delhi's nuclear policy, but much work remained to be done to mend strained relations.

"We have established a very wide canvas on which we are seeking to paint, but we have a long way to go," Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said after more than five hours of talks with Indian foreign policy adviser Jaswant Singh. He said they would meet again in Washington at the end of August.

Singh also called the talks "constructive," but said few details could be discussed now.

Talbott and Singh also met earlier this month in Frankfurt, Germany. The envoys first met in Washington in June, soon after India and neighboring Pakistan set off a series of underground nuclear tests.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since both gained independence from Britain in 1947, and their shared frontier remains tense.

Singh refused to say whether Kashmir, the territory over which two of the three Indo-Pakistani wars were fought, was raised in his talks with Talbott.

After the May nuclear tests, the Clinton administration imposed economic sanctions against India and Pakistan. Now, India wants to persuade Washington that it is a responsible nuclear power that should not be penalized. It says it needs a nuclear deterrent because of the threat posed by Pakistan and China.

Washington argues the May tests set back international progress toward ridding the world of nuclear weapons. It has called on both India and Pakistan to sign an international test ban treaty.

In June, the United States joined the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (Britain, China, France, and Russia) in urging India and Pakistan to refrain from further nuclear tests.

There are signs the differences between Washington and New Delhi are narrowing, with India indicating some willingness to sign the test ban treaty.

Last week, the U.S. Senate gave President Clinton the power to waive sanctions against India and Pakistan for up to 12 months. President Clinton was required by law to cut off loans and aid to India and Pakistan following their nuclear tests, and only Congress can lift the sanctions.

The Clinton administration says it would not waive penalties until it was satisfied the countries were moving toward disarmament.

Talbott, who also was to meet with the prime minister, the home minister and opposition leaders, said he was engaged in "the very important business of restoring U.S.-India relations."

The vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Joseph Ralston, held separate talks with Indian defense officials.

The Talbott team goes to Pakistan on Tuesday for discussions with the prime minister and the foreign minister.

Written by Donna Bryson