Mon, Aug 08, 2005 - Page 4 News List

India, Pakistan agree on reduction of nuclear risk

AFP , NEW DELHI

India and Pakistan have reached a series of landmark agreements aimed at reducing the risk of an accidental nuclear war between the two neighbors.

After two days of discussions in the Indian capital New Delhi, the rivals agreed Saturday to set up a telephone hotline to prevent accidental nuclear conflict and also agreed to notify each other before testing nuclear missiles.

The hotline would be established in September 2005, said a joint statement released after the talks, the third such meeting since a peace process was launched in January last year.

"The two sides emphasized the importance of early operationalization of the hotline link proposed to be established between the foreign secretaries ... to prevent misunderstandings and reduce risks relevant to nuclear issues," the statement said. The foreign secretaries are second to the foreign ministers in both countries.

In a separate agreement the two South Asian powers decided to formally notify each other before flight-testing ballistic missiles, most of which are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

The neighboring countries conducted tit-for-tat nuclear tests in 1998 and came to the brink of war in 2002. The historical rivals, who fought three earlier wars, routinely carry out tests of nuclear-capable missiles.

Jane's Defence Weekly analyst Rahul Bedi said the hotline link was important and likely to be similar to the one between the US and the former Soviet Union.

"These hotlines are meant to avert a nuclear accident," he said.

"The blueprint I think is what the Russians and the Americans have. It was important because the flight time of missiles between India and Pakistan is just three to four minutes. So you need very, very quick action," he added.

Pakistani delegation leader Tariq Osman Hyder said, "It's a good step. Pakistan and India are nuclear states, living side by side. We have to evolve the modality for confidence building [and] nuclear restraint for resolution of all disputes between us."

The ongoing peace process between India and Pakistan aims to resolve disputes including Kashmir, the Himalayan state claimed by both countries.

"This would help the peace process. It's a signpost for progress," Bedi said.

Next week, negotiators from the two sides are due to meet in New Delhi to discuss other confidence-building measures and ways to expand commercial ties.

A meeting between the two foreign secretaries is likely in October following a possible summit between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf at the UN next month.

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