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India, Pakistan to Conclude Nuclear Talks Sunday - 2004-06-19

Indian and Pakistani officials have opened talks in New Delhi on ways to reduce the risk of nuclear war between the two countries. The talks aim to build confidence between the two governments.

After the first meeting Saturday, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna described the dialogue on nuclear issues between India and Pakistan as "cordial and constructive."

"The two delegations identified areas of convergence," he said. "They also exchanged views on their respective security concepts and nuclear doctrines and agreed to elaborate and work toward confidence building measures."

Officials are not disclosing the specific confidence-building measures being discussed, but they say they will enhance nuclear security in South Asia. The talks are to conclude Sunday.

The two sides are expected to explore the possibility of establishing better communication links between their nuclear command and control centers.

Since conducting nuclear tests in 1998, both India and Pakistan have tested a series of nuclear-capable missiles that can reach targets deep into each other's territories.

The South Asian rivals have fought three wars and came close to a fourth in 2002, raising international concern about a possible nuclear conflict.

Uday Bhaskar at New Delhi's Institute for Strategic Studies and Analysis says it is vital for the countries to reach a consensus on nuclear safety measures. He says doing so would signal to the international community that Pakistan and India are acting to reduce the risk of a nuclear conflict.

"The international community should be reassured that India and Pakistan are moving toward a certain degree of stability which would be predicated on these confidence-building measures," said Uday Bhaskar.

Little is known publicly about the nuclear capability of the two countries, but it is estimated that India has 100 to 150 warheads, and Pakistan has 20 to 50. International observers have described South Asia as a potential nuclear flashpoint due to the history of hostility between the two countries.

India has adopted a policy not striking first with nuclear weapons, but Pakistan has made no such pledge because of New Delhi's superiority in conventional weapons.

The nuclear talks will help lay the groundwork for a meeting of senior Indian and Pakistani diplomats later this month. They will be discussing ways to lower the animosity between the two nations.