Great Seal

[EXCERPT] U.S. Department of State

Daily Press Briefing

MONDAY, MAY 11, 1998

10-11Nuclear Test/US Reaction
10,13Possible US Sanctions
10,12-13Meeting Between Indian Ambassador and Under Secretary Pickering
11-15India's Relationship with China and Pakistan
11-16NPT and CTBT Treaties

DPB #58
MONDAY, MAY 11, 1998, 12:55 P.M.


QUESTION: What can you tell us about the scope of the Indian nuclear test today? And what is the thinking of the US Government on its reaction, including possible sanctions?

MR. RUBIN: Well, let me say this - we are deeply disturbed by this announcement. We are seeking clarification from the Indian Government regarding what I think is obviously a very, very negative development. Our policy with respect to nuclear testing is clear: we urge all countries, including India, to refrain from nuclear testing, and to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

We are examining the relevant data right now, as we speak. There are some intensive meetings going on in the Department and around the bureaucracy. We have reached no independent conclusion at this time. There are a number of US sanction laws that potentially apply to a non-nuclear weapons state that detonates a nuclear explosive device. In this case, India would be considered a non-nuclear weapons state, based on its status under the provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

We certainly are not going to speculate on what result this will have on the region, but we strongly urge Pakistan to refrain from responding with a nuclear test of its own. The Indian Ambassador has been in touch with Under Secretary Pickering about this announcement, and we are proceeding with a careful analysis of the data and consider this a very negative development and are intensively discussing how to respond.

QUESTION: Did the US have any foreknowledge that the Indians were going to make these tests; because the Indian Foreign Minister was apparently in town last Friday, meeting officials?

MR. RUBIN: My understanding is that in those meetings we strongly urged them not to respond to any of the steps that Pakistan had taken, including the testing of a medium-range missile. But I don't believe that any of our officials knew for sure that there was going to be such an announcement today.

QUESTION: So this caught you unaware?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I didn't say that. I said that in those meetings, that there were no, to my knowledge, warnings that this was going to happen. I wouldn't be in a position to get into any of the areas using the word that I don't use and if you use, I get to say no comment.

QUESTION: A very, very quick one on the Middle East.

MR. RUBIN: You want to go back to the Middle East?

QUESTION: Just very quick. Is the notion still --

MR. RUBIN: You know that I counted, we had 37 questions on the Middle East.

QUESTION: This is so quick. The site is the question, because while you're knocking down The New York Times report, I wonder what you do with Israel radio that they're all going to meet in Birmingham, England. Is the site, the projected site for launching these final status talks still -- the hoped-for site -- still Washington?

MR. RUBIN: Let me say that Israel radio had a report yesterday that didn't resemble anything anybody knew about, except for the fact that it woke me up from my nap after two weeks on the road, and I inquired as to what the basis of that report was and the answer was nothing.

The President's statement, I think, will make clear that the talks would be launched in Washington.

QUESTION: Back on India, what makes you so sure that the Indian test was directed at Pakistan and not at China? And are you giving similar urgings - would you give similar public urgings to China, which apparently has deployed some nuclear missiles in Tibet recently?

MR. RUBIN: I'm unfamiliar with that report.

QUESTION: It was a report in one of your major clients last week. Anyway, what would you say to China in this case?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we certainly understand that India's attitudes toward nuclear nonproliferation are strongly influenced by its security perceptions vis-à-vis China, and by its traditional opposition to measures it sees as discriminating against non-nuclear weapons states.

My understanding is that the Chinese have engaged in a moratorium and have signed the Comprehensive Test Ban, and like the United States, are engaging in a process of getting the treaty ratified. So what we would like to see India do now is, having made this announcement is get on with the business of signing this treaty so that the world can become a safer place and rather than it becoming a more dangerous place, India would join the Comprehensive Test Ban regime.

We certainly understand that that is a factor in their thinking, but again, we believe the right course for the security of India, for the security of Pakistan, for the security of the Subcontinent, the right course is to join the Comprehensive Test Ban regime.

QUESTION: Is there analysis in this building or others, or have you been notified that what India was actually doing was similar to what China had done which is to conduct a flurry of tests to make them comfortable with their arsenal and then proceed to join the NPT?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we do not have information to confirm that that is its intention by any means. What I am simply saying is that we've urged at the highest levels in a series of meetings with India and Pakistan that both sides show restraint. Under Secretary Pickering did that; Strobe Talbott did that; I believe there were meetings over at the White House last week. When Ambassador Richardson was in the region he did that as well.

We believe that continued restraint in the area of nuclear and missile development will improvement the security of the region, rather than their view sometimes which appears to be that flexing their nuclear missile muscles will improve their security when it does just the opposite. So recognize that there are a number of different factors that go into their consideration. We know that they can assemble a limited number of nuclear weapons in a relatively short time, and what we think is important is that they realize that they are not improving their security and that this is a very disturbing development and that they should now move on to signing the Comprehensive Test Ban.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary actually call in the Indian Ambassador or did the Indian Ambassador volunteer to come in?

MR. RUBIN: I believe he volunteered to speak to Under Secretary Pickering, and right now, the interagency is meeting to decide on next steps, but I can assure you we will be raising

very strongly with India our concerns about -

QUESTION: So he brought in an explanation, in other words?

MR. RUBIN: Of some kind, yes.

QUESTION: And I take it you find this explanation unsatisfactory?

MR. RUBIN: We consider this an extremely negative development.

Q`Can you say what the Indian Ambassador carried to you -

MR. RUBIN: We still - even after hearing from him, we still consider it an extremely negative development.

QUESTION: And what actually was the explanation they gave you?

MR. RUBIN: I am not in position to get into that kind of a diplomatic discussion.

QUESTION: In an announcement, the Indian Government said that there were three explosions and that they were nuclear warheads as opposed to what they used to call a peaceful nuclear device. Does that sound correct? Are they - were they warheads?

MR. RUBIN: I think, Jim, you heard me say that we are still analyzing the date, and when we've made a conclusion, we'll share it with you.

QUESTION: I have one other question. You mentioned the possibility of sanctions. What sort of sanctions are on the list?

MR. RUBIN: Well, there are pursuant to various laws, sanctions, that affect foreign assistance, that affect trade assistance, that affect bank loans, et cetera. And we are going to be examining whether the laws apply in this case.

QUESTION: Could I ask you if the pact with China, this missile and nuclear relationship with Pakistan, may have had anything to do with this in the US's judgment, and is that relationship now of a sort that you're comfortable with it?

MR. RUBIN: I don't understand how China's relationship with Pakistan would help India conduct a nuclear explosion as announced by them, not determined by me.

QUESTION: Well, one would - it wouldn't take a lot of imagination to --

MR. RUBIN: Certainly, anyone who contributes to proliferation on the Indian Subcontinent is putting themselves in a position where the security of the world is at risk. We have taken very strong measures in the past to impose sanctions on companies that have been involved in assisting Pakistan.

I believe just a week ago we imposed sanctions on two companies with regard to missile transfer or component transfer to Pakistan. So I think we consider stopping the threat of missile and nuclear development on the Indian Subcontinent extremely important to us, and are using all the laws and persuasion at our disposal in order to combat that threat.

QUESTION: Well, it's a component of the situation. In February 1996, you concluded there wasn't sufficient evidence that China had provided missiles, medium-range missiles, to Pakistan. And this problem keeps cropping up. India doesn't exist in a vacuum; it exists with countries around it that it's suspicious of. I just wondered if the State Department thinks that China's relationship with Pakistan may have been provocative. And secondly, are you satisfied now that China is not proliferating?

MR. RUBIN: Well, we believe that China is following through on its commitments pursuant to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and pursuant to its bilateral agreement with us not to assist non-nuclear weapons states in making nuclear weapons. So in that sense, we believe they are living up to that commitment.

With regard to the overall tensions in the region and the residual impact some technology transfers may have, it's very hard to judge what motivates India to make this kind of announcement; and if true, to explode nuclear weapons at a time when the rest of the world is signing up to the Comprehensive Test Ban and moving towards nonproliferation. I don't want to presume to make that judgment for them, other than to say we think all countries in the world ought to do their utmost to prevent fueling the arms race in the Indian Subcontinent so that we don't see the current situation spiral into an even more dangerous situation.

QUESTION: Is it more bad news for the Test Ban Treaty? I mean, there is a possibility that, like France, India is doing something it feels it has to do to get up to date.

MR. RUBIN: Well, as I indicated to Sid --

QUESTION: Yes, I know, but on the treaty itself, I would just welcome some observation. You already have a tough job.

MR. RUBIN: Yes, we certainly believe the Comprehensive Test Ban is decidedly in the national interest of the United States because it will prevent other countries from testing nuclear weapons, and it will make it easier to isolate and pressure those countries who have not signed. Certainly, the fact that we believe that has not changed; it's only made it more important that the treaty get ratified so that the inherent pressure that can be brought to bear on non-signers can be brought to bear through the ratification by these five countries.

QUESTION: Do you have any reason to doubt that there were actually the Indian nuclear tests?

MR. RUBIN: Again, I've been provided very careful wording and --

QUESTION: So you cannot confirm it?

MR. RUBIN: I'm not confirming that it's a nuclear test. I mean, certainly the fact that they announced that it was a nuclear test is rather compelling information.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) - last week, the Indian Defense Minister, Mr. Fernandez, was making statements --

MR. RUBIN: Which defense minister?

QUESTION: The Indian Defense Minister, Fernandez, was making statements about being encircled by China or China's clients, but specifically about a number of nuclear weapons that were being stored in the southern border, near the Indian border of Tibet; airfields that were being enhanced in Tibet that would directly threaten India. I think that was maybe one of the reasons they tested; I don't know. Do you have any comment to that?

MR. RUBIN: Well, in response to Sid's question, I gave you as much as I could on that - which is that we're aware that India's attitudes toward nuclear nonproliferation are strongly influenced by its perceptions vis-a-vis China and China's activities. We're quite aware of that.

QUESTION: Would the US think that China moving their bombs back into China mainland would be wise?

MR. RUBIN: I have no ability to confirm or get into any detail on this precise location of Chinese nuclear armaments.

One more on India, and then we'll move to the other subject that I can tell someone wants to ask about.

QUESTION: Repeatedly India has made it clear that she would sign the CTBT only if the nuclear weapons powers agree to firm date for the abolition of all nuclear weapons. What makes you think that now India will reverse its policy and agree to sign the CTBT in spite of the fact that the five nuclear powers think it absolutely essential for their national security to have nuclear weapons, but somehow India should be naked against the Chinese without any either missiles or nuclear weapons; India should be completely --

MR. RUBIN: Let me say this - we think that position is fundamentally wrong. We think that position does not enhance the security of India, but it decreases the security for everyone on the Subcontinent and the world. There are plenty of countries in world that are prepared to forego nuclear testing, even recognizing that the United States and a few other countries have an inherent nuclear capability. So therefore, if India wants to help the world move away from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, if it wants to be a leader in the fight to stop the threat from weapons of mass destruction, it should sign the CTB rather than using other countries' inherent capabilities as an excuse to be the laggard in this area.

QUESTION: I had a question - today Deputy Secretary of State Talbott met with Under Secretary of Foreign Affairs from Greece and the General Secretary of the Majority Party. Do you have a read-out on this meeting?

MR. RUBIN: No, I don't, but we'll get you one as soon as we do.

QUESTION: Can I ask one quick question on India again? Suppose the Indian Government says they will be willing to sign the CTBT. Is it conceivable that the sanctions would not be imposed?

MR. RUBIN: Well, certainly --

QUESTION: And also, do you think this kind of undermines or stops President Clinton's plans to visit South Asia at the end of the year?

MR. RUBIN: Well, I wouldn't be in a position to speculate on his plans. That would be something you'd have to take up on the White House. Certainly, as I said, this is a very negative development and it would certainly be a welcome development if India were now to announce its intention to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban.


QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing concluded at 1:50 P.M.)

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