Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today offered to convert India's self-imposed moratorium on nuclear tests into a "binding commitment" after negotiations with "key countries".
Mr. Vajpayee brushed aside the refusal of US and its allies to recognise India as a nuclear weapon state by asserting "definitional constraints reflecting a three-decade-old situation need to come to terms with this reality."
However, at the same time, the Prime Minister said, "We are prepared to convert the moratorium (on nuclear tests) into a binding commitment but only after discussions with key interlocutors."
Mr. Vajpayee answered a wide range of questions on the rationale for the five nuclear tests, India's objections to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), impact of economic sanctions and the opposition charge that his government and BJP were trying to exploit the nuclear tests politically.
Mr. Vajpayee said India and China have to be "responsive to each other's security concerns" and asserted that New Delhi would like to have a stable and long-term relationship with Beijing through dialogue.
Q: Prime Minister, would you like to state the reasons for timing the five nuclear tests now?
A: The primary reason was the need to safeguard India's national security. We wanted to reassure the people that their security was of paramount concern to the government.
Q: You have said that India does not plan any more nuclear tests. Does that rule out tests for all times to come?
A: We have declared a moratorium on testing. The phrase is self-explanatory. We are prepared to convert the moratorium into a binding commitment, but only after discussion with key interlocutors.
Q: Were you surprised at the reaction of the United States, Japan and a few other nations who have been very vocal in condemning the nuclear tests?
A: We were not surprised but a little disappointed at the reactions of some countries. We are mindful of the sensibilities of most of these countries -- for instance, we have a special regard for the feelings expressed by Japan. Let me assure everybody that India does not pose a threat to any country and will continue to contribute fully to the cause of global peace and security.
Q: What are India's main objections to CTBT? Under what circumstance would we be prepared to sign it?
A: Our objections to the CTBT are well known. For instance, the treaty does not prevent the development of new nuclear weapons through computer simulation, thus hindering the efforts to achieve comprehensive and universal disarmament. The moratorium we have declared on testing can be formalised into an obligation after negotiations with key countries.
Q: Your mention of the China factor, although without specifically naming that country as one of the reasons for the decision, has come in for sharp criticism from within India and from China itself. The Left parties have suggested that you are trying to revive a confrontation with China.
A: Let me state categorically that we want good relations with China. The security concerns of India cover a larger canvas. China and India have to be equally responsible to each other's concerns. We want to set a solid foundation for a stable and hag-term relationship, through dialogue.
Q: In the light of the paranoia in Pakistan following the tests, what is your message to the government and people of Pakistan? Do you think dialogue with Pakistan should continue and at what level? Do you plan any fresh policy initiatives vis-a-vis Pakistan?
A: My message is that India wants friendship with Pakistan. Let us resolve our differences through dialogue and build a relationship based on trust and goodwill.