- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 9, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 (UPI) — The U.S. State Department said Thursday that India's latest missile test disappointed Washington and could increase tensions in South Asia.

India announced earlier Thursday that it successfully test-fired a short-range version of its Agni-1 intermediate ballistic missile. The 50-foot missile with a range of 460 miles can carry 1 ton of warheads and is powered by solid fuel propulsion.

India's Defense Minister George Fernandes attended the test firing on Wheeler's Island, in the Bay of Bengal.

"We think tests like this contribute to a charged atmosphere, make it harder to prevent a costly and destabilizing nuclear and missile arms race," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a news briefing.

The first test of the Agni in 1999 followed neighboring Pakistan's test firing of its first Ghauri medium-range missile the previous year.

The Agni, or fire, is part of the integrated guided missile program of India's Defense Research and Development Organization.

That program also includes the surface-to-air missile Akash, or sky, surface-to-surface missile Prithvi, or earth, naval surface-to-air missile Trishul, or trident, and the anti-tank missile Nag, or cobra.

On Wednesday the Pakistani army introduced its indigenously developed medium range Hatf V-Ghouri missile, capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Boucher said the test would further strain already tense relations between India and Pakistan and asked the two nuclear rivals to "take steps to restrain their nuclear weapon and missile programs, including no operational deployment of nuclear-armed ballistic missiles."

He said the United States has and urged them to begin a dialogue on confidence-building measures that could reduce the likelihood that such weapons might be used. "This obviously could be part of a broader dialogue to help reduce tensions," he added.

Boucher said it would be helpful if both sides reduced their recent rhetoric about the potential for conflict, because that too heightens tensions in the area.

Asked if the Pakistani rhetoric forced India to conduct the test, the spokesman said: "Our view is that it's not a question of the one or the other; it's not productive to start asking is he doing this because he did that and vice versa. The point is, both sides need to exercise restraint; both sides need to lower the tone of the rhetoric; and that these kind of missile tests do contribute to the charged atmosphere and the sides need to consider that."

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