- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2000

NEW DELHI President Clinton arrived in India last night, 22 months after this burgeoning nation of a billion people exploded a nuclear device and 22 years after the last visit by an American president, Jimmy Carter.

Mr. Clinton came bearing millions in aid and a plan to ease sanctions imposed after New Delhi ignored months of appeals from the president and conducted nuclear tests in May 1998.

National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer insisted Mr. Clinton was not rewarding India for going nuclear. "It is a legitimate question," Mr. Hammer told The Washington Times. "We will be easing some of the sanctions in areas where we feel that there's mutual interest that are not in any way related to military or [nuclear] dual-use items."

Mr. Clinton's first official act upon arrival in New Delhi was to cancel a visit to a Bangladesh village planned for today. White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart blamed the cancellation on "concerns raised by the Secret Service."

Deputy Press Secretary Jake Siewert said, "I'm not going to elaborate. I just know they didn't feel comfortable." Secret Service agents were believed to be particularly unnerved by the prospect of the president riding in a helicopter over dense jungle to and from the village.

Mr. Clinton left New Delhi by air this morning for the other portion of his Bangladesh visit, a day trip to Dhaka, the capital of one of the poorest and most densely populated nations in the world. While in Dhaka, the president will meet with residents of Joypura, the impoverished village where he was to have toured a one-room school hut, a family health clinic and a local lending institution.

Security has been a major concern since Mr. Clinton announced earlier in the year he would be spending this week in South Asia. An even larger worry for the Secret Service is Mr. Clinton's planned stop in Pakistan, where the democratically elected government was overthrown in a military coup in October.

The coup came 17 months after Pakistan matched India's detonation of a nuclear device by exploding one of its own. The duelling tests severely strained America's relationship with Pakistan, a Cold War ally, and hampered fence-mending with India, which had been aligned with the Soviet Union until its breakup in 1991.

Tensions have risen even further as India and Pakistan have sparred over control of the disputed border region of Kashmir. Yesterday, Indian police fired tear-gas canisters at separatists there.

Mr. Clinton would like to mediate the dispute, but India prefers to deal directly with Pakistan.

The president's visit to India and Pakistan is seen as an effort to put the nuclear genie back in the bottle. Although he wants both countries to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, his argument has been undermined by the U.S. Senate's refusal to ratify the treaty.

In Pakistan, Mr. Clinton's desire for a nuclear moratorium has been eclipsed by his more urgent calls for a return to democracy. But in India, nuclear proliferation remains the overriding concern of the president, who imposed wide-ranging sanctions on New Delhi after its nuclear tests.

Some of those sanctions will be lifted this week, Mr. Hammer said. The president will also announce $84 million in U.S. aid for clean-energy projects in India, Bangladesh and Nepal.

In addition, Mr. Clinton was poised to promise $97 million in food assistance for Bangladesh, where malnutrition stunts the growth of more than 60 percent of the children. The United States has provided more than $4.2 billion in food and development aid to Bangladesh since the nation was formed in 1971.

The president also planned to deliver $6 million to preserve tropical forests in Bangladesh and millions more to fight substandard working conditions for women and child-labor abuses in South Asia.

The president came to India with his daughter, Chelsea, and his mother-in-law, Dorothy Rodham. Mr. Clinton's wife, Hillary, chose to stay in the United States and campaign in her New York Senate race.

Hundreds of workers in New Delhi spent yesterday putting the finishing touches on a multimillion-dollar effort to spruce up the city for the president's visit. Although workers painted curbs, swept streets and planted flowers, they could not conceal the legions of destitute families huddled in squalid huts and roadside tents made of garbage bags.

Although many Indians welcomed Mr. Clinton's visit as a way to reassert their political and economic relevance, others were less happy. A group of protesters burned an effigy of the president in New Delhi yesterday, chanting, "Go back, Clinton" and "Death to imperialism."

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