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India Minister Reiterates 'No First Use' Nuclear Pledge - 2002-06-02

India's defense minister says New Delhi will not be impulsive in its stand-off with nuclear rival Pakistan over the disputed Kashmir region. But George Fernandes called on the United States and its allies to stop giving money to Pakistan. The Indian official's comments came in Singapore, where Mr. Fernandes addressed a regional security conference.

India's defense minister says his country has conducted itself with characteristic restraint in the face of attacks by Pakistan, which he called a "swamp that was breeding terrorists."

George Fernandes reiterated India's pledge to avoid the first use of nuclear weapons. Pakistan has yet to make a similar promise. "As far as India is concerned, there is no way that India will ever use a nuclear weapon other than to treat it as a deterrent. We stick by our nuclear doctrine," said Mr. Fernandes.

But he said New Delhi will not be held hostage by terrorism or allow its territorial integrity to be attacked.

At one point, tearful at the Singapore security conference, Mr. Fernandes said that tens of thousands of Indians have died in conflict with Pakistan over the disputed Kashmir region. He said the people of India are angry and anguished, and the pressure on Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee to launch an attack is intense.

"India is focused on terrorism with determination," said Mr. Fernandes. "We are not threatening the territorial integrity of Pakistan, nor do we have any animus with the people of Pakistan. ... All we expect of the Musharraf regime is that it desist from supporting terrorism."

Mr. Fernandes says his government is concerned about infiltration of Islamic militants, including al-Qaida terrorists and Taleban fighters, into Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.

He urged the United State and its Western allies to stop financial aid to Pakistan in an effort to help resolve the tensions peacefully.

"Pakistan has its own internal problems, economic problems, and depends to a very great extent [on] U.S. support," hs said, uring Washington to "stop the kind of flow of funds that take place, and convey that this can be restored only, and only when the kind of cross-border activity that goes on is ended. And, therefore, there is a very easy way, it will not hurt anybody, but it can help perhaps the entire subcontinent."

Defense Minister Fernandes spoke in Singapore where 150 defense officials and experts met to discuss ways to combat terrorism and other regional security threats. Meanwhile, the leaders of India and Pakistan are heading to a regional summit in Kazakhstan. There is no indication the two men plan a face-to-face meeting.