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State Department: India's Missile Test Sends Wrong Signal to Region and Beyond - 2003-01-10

The United States expressed disappointment Thursday over India's test of its nuclear-capable Agni-1 ballistic missile. It urged both India and Pakistan to tone down combative rhetoric and seek confidence-building measures.

The Bush administration has devoted considerable diplomatic efforts to defusing two crises in the past year between India and Pakistan that nearly erupted into full-scale hostilities.

And it used India's test-launch Thursday of its Agni-1 ballistic missile, which is capable of reaching most targets in Pakistan, as an occasion to appeal to both South Asian nuclear powers to restrain their military activities and try to reduce tensions.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Indian test, though announced in advance, sends the wrong signal to the region and beyond.

"We're disappointed when we see ballistic missile tests in this region," he said. "India did issue a public notice that this test would occur. Nonetheless, we think tests like this contribute to a charged atmosphere and make it harder to prevent a costly and destabilizing nuclear and missile arms race. We continue to urge both India and Pakistan to take steps to restrain their nuclear weapon and missile programs, including no operational deployment of nuclear armed ballistic missiles, and we've urged them to begin a dialogue on confidence-building measures."

Mr. Boucher said confidence-building measures, championed by Secretary of State Colin Powell on his last trip to the region in late July, would reduce the likelihood that weapons of mass destruction might be used, and could be part of a broader dialogue on the sub-continent to reduce tensions.

The U.S. spokesman also said it would be "helpful" if both sides reduced recent threatening rhetoric about the potential for conflict saying that, too, heightens tensions in the area.

India and Pakistan came to the brink of war a year ago after India accused Pakistan of backing Muslim militants who attacked the Indian parliament in December of 2001.

Tensions surged again last July amid friction over Kashmir and were defused in part by intensive U.S. diplomacy that include crisis missions by Mr. Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.