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India, Pakistan Ready for Nuclear Talks - 2004-06-18


An eight-member Pakistani delegation has arrived in India to hold talks on nuclear issues. The talks will focus on reducing the chances of a nuclear conflict between the two countries.

The talks are being held two years after the South Asian rivals stood on the brink of war, raising worries around the world that they could be headed for a nuclear conflict.

Tensions have eased since then and the nuclear talks are part of a broader peace dialogue the two countries agreed to begin last January.

Since then, the Indian government has changed hands. The new administration, however, says it remains committed to the previous government's policy of pursuing peace with Pakistan.

Saturday and Sunday, senior officials from Islamabad and New Delhi will discuss ways to reduce the risk of a nuclear war in South Asia.

On arriving in New Delhi, the leader of the Pakistani delegation, Tariq Osman Hyder, expressed optimism.

"We feel the delegations of both countries have a responsibility, as responsible nuclear powers, to their own people," he said. "We have come here with a very positive spirit. We will be carrying positive suggestions."

India conducted nuclear weapons tests in 1998, prompting Pakistan to carry out its own tests. Months later, both countries held a dialogue on nuclear safety issues, but few agreements were implemented, as hostility grew between them.

Uday Bhaskar is deputy director of New Delhi's Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis. He says it is important for both sides to take practical steps to make sure a nuclear war is not started accidentally. "Countries that have nuclear weapons and missiles have an obligation, both to their own population, the region they are located in and to the entire global community to evolve confidence-building measures that would completely eliminate any possibility of misperception, misreading, any wrong interpretation of signals," he said.

Analysts say understanding each other's command and control system will be a key issue. The countries may also discuss setting up a hotline between their nuclear commands.

New Delhi has vowed not to use nuclear weapons as a first-strike option. Islamabad says it wants to retain the first-strike option because of India's superiority in conventional arms.

Many international observers describe South Asia as one of the world's most unstable regions. India and Pakistan have fought three wars, and came close to a fourth in 2002. The hostility between them stems from their dispute over Kashmir, the Himalayan territory that is divided between the two countries, but claimed by both.

The nuclear talks will set the tone for peace talks being held a week later in New Delhi between the two governments' foreign secretaries.

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