- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2000

NEW DELHI President Clinton yesterday failed to persuade India to give up nuclear weapons and he drew a remarkable rebuke from his hosts.
He was told he could not mediate India's dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir, where at lease 35 Sikhs were massacred Monday.
Mr. Clinton's description of Kashmir, made in February, as "perhaps the most dangerous place in the world" was ridiculed to his face by Indian President Kocheril Raman Narayanan.
"These alarmist descriptions will only encourage those who want to break the peace and indulge in terrorism and violence," Mr. Narayanan said in his toast at a state dinner in honor of Mr. Clinton.
Mr. Clinton, who was facing Mr. Narayanan across a table, then stood and made his own toast, making no reference to the Indian president's rebuke.
Earlier in the day, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee also disputed Mr. Clinton's description of the dangers in South Asia.
"I'm sure after visiting this part of the world, the president will come to the conclusion that the situation is not so bad as it is made out to be," Mr. Vajpayee said during a joint news conference with Mr. Clinton. "There is no threat of any war."
While Indian officials were downplaying South Asia's dangers, Clinton administration officials were whispering that the president might have faced a "terrorist" attack if he had gone ahead with a scheduled visit to a village in Bangladesh Monday.
Officials said yesterday that Saudi exile Osama bin Laden might have been considering a strike against Mr. Clinton or his entourage during the 20-mile helicopter ride over dense rain forest that the president would have taken to reach the village of Joypura. The president canceled the visit after intelligence officials received what National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger described as "specific" information that Mr. Clinton would have been imperiled.
Yesterday, Mr. Clinton failed to achieve the major goal of his trip to India convincing the world's most populous democracy to forgo nuclear weapons. The president said he emphasized to Mr. Vajpayee during a private meeting "that at a time when most nations, including the United States and Russia, are making real progress in moving away from nuclear weapons, the world needs India to lead in the same manner."
But the president fell short on each of the specific objectives he laid out persuading India to ban the production of fissile materials, tighten export controls, and embrace the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.
"President Clinton and I had a frank discussion on the issues of disarmament and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Vajpayee said. "I've explained to President Clinton the reasons that compel us to maintain a minimum nuclear deterrent."
Mr. Clinton's argument that India should ratify the nuclear test ban treaty was undermined by the U.S. Senate's refusal to ratify the accord last year.
India shocked the world by conducting nuclear tests in May 1998, prompting Pakistan to immediately follow suit. Yesterday, Mr. Vajpayee "reiterated our firm commitment not to conduct further nuclear explosive tests, not to engage in a nuclear arms race, and not to be the first to use nuclear weapons against any country."
Mr. Clinton also tried to find a bright spot in his talks with Mr. Vajpayee.
"I felt today that there was a possibility that we could reach more common ground on the issues of testing, on the production of fissile material, on export controls and on restraint, generally," said the president, who will renew his plea during a speech today to India's parliament.
But Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said Mr. Clinton made no secret of his displeasure during his talks with Mr. Vajpayee.
"The United States is a country that tells it like it is," Mrs. Albright told reporters. "When we have problems with our friends, we let them know. And that is what the president did here."
Mr. Clinton also "has not been asked to mediate the dispute between India and Pakistan," Mrs. Albright said. The president has made no secret of his desire to broker negotiations over Kashmir, just as he has in the Middle East and Northern Ireland conflicts.
"Problems between countries of the region should be resolved peacefully by the concerned parties themselves," Mr. Vajpayee demurred. "India remains committed to resolving its differences with its neighbors through peaceful bilateral dialogue and in an atmosphere free from the thought of force and violence."
But violence was precisely what tore through the Himalayan region of Kashmir just hours before Mr. Vajpayee spoke. A band of suspected terrorists shot and killed 36 Sikhs in a remote village in the disputed territory.
The violence continued yesterday when militants shot and wounded an Indian soldier in Kashmir.
Mr. Clinton condemned the "brutal attack" on the Sikhs, declaring: "There should be less violence in Kashmir, not more."
Mrs. Albright added: "The Kashmir problem has gone on a long time, and the events overnight were very difficult, and clearly exacerbate the situation."
Mr. Clinton also said yesterday that he and Presidents Reagan and Bush had neglected America's relationship with India over the last 20 years.
"It has been 22 years since a United States president has visited this country," Mr. Clinton said. "It is close to half your history since becoming independent. That is far too long and this day is, therefore, long overdue."
He added: "We have neglected this relationship for more than two decades. It is too important to ever fall into disrepair again."
But that is exactly what might happen if progress is not made on the nuclear "problem," Mrs. Albright warned.
"The nonproliferation issue is very important," she said. "It's difficult for the relationship in the long run if we are not able to resolve it."
Mr. Clinton took time out from his schedule yesterday to meet privately with the widow of a man killed in the hijacking of an Indian airliner in December. The president expressed his condolences during a 25-minute meeting with the woman and her in-laws at the hotel where Mr. Clinton is staying.
Also yesterday, the White House announced that Mr. Clinton will visit Oman this weekend and pay a call on Sultan Qaboos bin Said. The visit will come at the tail end of Mr. Clinton's weeklong tour of South Asia and just before the president stops in Switzerland to meet with the president of Syria.

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