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US Disappointed by India, Pakistan Missile Tests - 2002-10-05

The United States Friday expressed "disappointment" over the latest missile tests by India and Pakistan, which it said could add to existing tensions in South Asia and make it harder to prevent a costly arms race.

The Bush administration has devoted considerable diplomatic efforts to try to ease military tensions between the two South Asian powers. And the new missile tests came just after a visit to India and Pakistan this week by Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher voiced disappointment over the tests, which he said could contribute to what he called the "charged atmosphere" in the region and make it harder to prevent a "costly and destabilizing" nuclear and missile arms race between the two South Asian powers. "A race like that would be a further threat to regional and international security," he said. "We've continued to urge both Pakistan and India to take steps to restrain their nuclear weapon and missile programs, including no operational deployment of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles and to begin a dialogue on confidence-building measures that could reduce the likelihood that such weapons would ever be used. This could be part of a broader dialogue to reduce tensions in the region."

Pakistan conducted the first test Friday, firing a medium-range ballistic missile over the Arabian Sea. Just a few hours later India announced a test of a surface-to-air missile over the Bay of Bengal.

In his remarks here, spokesman Boucher said the United States' primary concern is about missiles that can deliver weapons of mass destruction like the system tested by Pakistan Friday and not surface-to-air, or anti-aircraft, weapons.

But in broader terms, he said the United States looks to both sides not to take steps that "increase tensions in the region." The spokesman said he was "sure" U.S. diplomats would register Bush administration concern with both governments over the new tests.

Ms. Rocca, the assistant secretary for South Asian affairs, was the latest in a parade of senior administration officials who have visited India and Pakistan in recent months to try to tamp down tensions after the two countries nearly went to war in May over the Kashmir.

Though the risk of war has receded, the two countries still have troops massed along their common border, and U.S. officials have been trying to get them to scale-back the buildup and reopen a direct security dialogue.