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India, Pakistan Agree on Nuclear Hotline, Test  Ban - 2004-06-20


India and Pakistan have agreed to establish a telephone hotline for nuclear issues and have pledged not to conduct further nuclear tests. The agreements are the fruit of two days of talks held in the Indian capital on confidence-building measures between the rivals.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna says the hotline will alert Indian and Pakistani officials of potential nuclear threats or accidents.

"A dedicated and secure hotline would be established between the two foreign secretaries, to prevent misunderstandings and reduce risks relevant to nuclear issues," he said.

At the end of two days of talks, both countries agreed to renew an existing moratorium on conducting nuclear tests, except in the case of what they termed "extraordinary events" that threaten the supreme interest of either nation.

The talks were held six years after the South Asian rivals conducted nuclear tests, which sparked international fears that military conflict between them could involve a nuclear exchange.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars and came close to a fourth two years ago.

However, the latest talks were held amid a new atmosphere of conciliation following a decision last January to address disputes through comprehensive dialogue.

Analysts say the weekend talks aimed at building better communication on nuclear issues should reassure the international community that the rivals are working to avoid a possible nuclear flare-up on the subcontinent.

Mr. Sarna says India and Pakistan are also working toward a formal agreement on giving advance notice to each other of missile tests. At the moment both countries follow the practice on an informal basis.

"Both countries will work towards concluding an agreement with technical parameters on pre-notification of flight testing of missiles," he said.

India has committed itself not to use nuclear weapons first in any conflict, but Pakistan, which has fewer conventional weapons, has made no such commitment.

The weekend meeting paves the way for talks between their foreign ministers planned for Monday on the sidelines of a regional conference in China.

The top diplomats of the two countries will also meet in New Delhi next week to discuss their disputes.

The talks on nuclear issues were the first negotiations held between the two countries since a new government came to power in India last month.

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