Clinton Suffers Bitter Defeat

By Terence Hunt
AP White House Correspondent
Thursday, May 28, 1998; 5:08 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- After an extraordinary campaign of public pleas and private phone calls, President Clinton suffered a bitter defeat when Pakistan ignored his appeal for restraint in South Asia's newly dangerous arms race.

In the end, Clinton had no clout trying to persuade a nervous Pakistan against following the lead of archrival India in flexing nuclear muscles. In a candid statement about the limits of power, the administration readily conceded its lack of influence.

``The United States of America, despite all of its wealth and its might, cannot control every event, every place in the world -- particularly in a place where for five decades now, governments have fought wars and people have lived with incredible tension,'' presidential spokesman Mike McCurry said.

There were not many carrots or sticks Clinton could wave in this case since the United States had cut off aid in 1990 and had blocked the delivery of military planes to Pakistan because of its nuclear program.

Clinton made personal appeals to Pakistan's prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, in four telephone calls, the last one shortly before midnight Wednesday. The president also sent a high-level delegation to Islamabad.

He cajoled and threatened. He warned that more sanctions would be imposed. And if Pakistan refrained, he promised, it would boost its global standing, take the moral high ground and reap economic benefits.

But the president never seemed optimistic he would succeed. No stranger to political battles, Clinton acknowledged that Sharif was under immense domestic pressure to test. Clinton said he could not make Sharif hold back from something he believed was in his national interest.

In fact, the United States' ability to influence global decisions has waned since the end of the Cold War. That was obvious at the eight-nation summit earlier this month when Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia ignored Clinton's call for sanctions against India.

Some analysts blamed Clinton for not stopping a nuclear arms race in South Asia. But others, notably former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger, said it wasn't his fault, because of congressional meddling in foreign policy.

``I'd love to be able to blame this on him but I can't,'' said Eagleburger. ``Here we have the president saddled with having to impose sanctions on both countries, which seems to me ... a very ineffective means for him to be able to deal with either country.''

Others accused Clinton of pushing India toward testing.

Paul L. Leventhal, president of the nongovernment Nuclear Control Institute, said the administration had alarmed India and nudged it to test by tilting U.S. policy toward China, the principal supplier of nuclear material to Pakistan.

Further, Leventhal said Sandy Berger, the president's national security adviser, had minimized U.S. nuclear concerns in talks with Indian officials.

John Pike, director of the Federation of American Scientists, an arms control advocacy group, said the Reagan administration had turned a blind eye to Pakistan's nuclear program in the 1980s because Pakistan was helping the United States in Afghanistan.

Then, he said, the Clinton administration was guilty of ``being asleep at the switch over the last couple of months or so with India testing.'' Once India exploded a nuclear device, ``there's nothing we could have done to stop Pakistan,'' Pike said, because Pakistan was interested in a U.S. security guarantee and the United States was not prepared to offer that.

Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee, said there was little the United States could do because both Pakistan and India saw the tests as critical to their national interests.

With the nuclear genie out of the bottle, the administration pleaded with India and Pakistan on Thursday to step back from the nuclear precipice.

``It is now more urgent than it was yesterday that both Pakistan and India renounce further tests, sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and take decisive steps to reduce tensions in South Asia and reverse the dangerous arms race,'' Clinton said.

Even while deploring Pakistan's tests, Clinton seemed sympathetic with Sharif. ``He certainly understands the arguments the prime minister made,'' McCurry said. ``He understands the unique regional and domestic pressures that the prime minister felt he faced.''

© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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