Wed, Dec 15, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Pakistan, India meet for missile talks

CONFIDENCE The leaders of the two nuclear powers met in the Pakistani capital to work on an agreement that would prevent `accidental launches' from occurring

AFP , ISLAMABAD

Pakistan and India opened talks yesterday to hammer out an agreement on giving advance warning of ballistic missile tests and other steps to avert any accidental launch of nuclear weapons.

The talks between senior officials from the South Asian neighbors, part of a slow-moving peace process begun in January, will focus on so-called nuclear confidence-building measures.

With a chequered history of relations, including three wars since independence in 1947, India and Pakistan "have to be responsible nuclear weapons states," Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman Masood Khan said.

"There should not be an accidental or unauthorized launch or exchange of nuclear weapons, that will cause havoc," he said, adding that the measures under discussion would create an environment for "nuclear risk reduction."

Pakistan and India held tit-for-tat nuclear detonations in May 1998 and have twice since come close to war over divided Kashmir.

However the two countries normally inform each other when holding one of their frequent missile tests and the talks may lead to the signing of a formal agreement on the issue.

The delegations are led by additional secretary at the Pakistani foreign ministry Tariq Osman Hyder and his Indian counterpart Meera Shankar.

"We are very happy to be in Islamabad. The weather is certainly better than Delhi at the moment," Shankar told reporters in the Pakistani capital.

"We look forward to continuing the dialogue on nuclear CBMs [confidence building measures] that we started in June," she said. "I look forward to a result-oriented process which will be in the interests of both the countries."

At the talks in New Delhi in June -- the first in the current peace process -- the two countries recognized the need to work for "strategic stability" in the region, Pakistan's Khan said.

The two sides are expected to discuss the details of a hotline between top foreign ministry officials to regularly communicate with each other, he added.

In June both sides agreed to set up the hotline and reiterated a 1999 agreement that neither would hold another nuclear test unless forced to by "extraordinary events."

They already have a hotline between senior military commanders.

"We have covered some ground. We want to build and expand on this understanding," Khan said.

A second expert-level meeting is scheduled today to discuss confidence-building measures in the conventional field.

However analysts say India and Pakistan, who have both refused to sign non-proliferation treaties because they are not formally recognized as nuclear powers, had not convinced the world that their safety moves would be effective.

"This is all part of confidence-building measures, but to become responsible nuclear nations the two countries need to do much more," Parvez Hoodbhoy, a nuclear physics professor at Islamabad's Quaid-e-Azam University, told reporters.

Pakistan has come under particular scrutiny after it emerged that scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of the country's nuclear program, passed nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Khan in February took full responsibility and received a conditional pardon from President Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf has said that no Pakistani government or military body was involved.

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