Talbott - Jaswant Talks: Vying for distant possibilities

06 Aug, 1998    ·   128

Ashutosh Mishra says India is certainly is in an advantageous position after withstanding the pressure of the sanctions

Harold Saunders wrote in his book "The Other Walls" dealing with the Arab - Israeli peace process that, before the formal negotiations, begin the parties must prenegotiate to produce results from final negotiations. By prenegotiation he meant ‘defining the problem’ and ‘developing a commitment to negotiation’ by the parties.



India and the United States are seen to be following this advice in the wake of Pokhran II. The recently concluded third round of talks between US Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Jaswant Singh was referred to as " constructive". Though the two sides failed to bridge the gulf between them they displayed " a spirit of working together to narrow the gaps" in their respective standpoint. This was the only encouraging part. The talks were considered crucial by the two sides as they helped in clarifying their positions. A US Embassy spokesperson remarked after the talks, "It’s an on going process. It’s not a one shot thing".



During the talks, India ’s stand on CTBT turned out to be, as expected, the bone of contention. The US was interested in India setting up landmarks for entry into the non- proliferation regime-in particular when and how it would build domestic consensus for reversing its opposition to the CTBT. Although the US acknowledged India ’s difficulty in reversing its stand on the CTBT, it wanted a legally binding instrument to guarantee this reversal. This is the point on which no solution is in sight, at least for the time being.



During the talks India discovered an interesting new formulation by the US . Till recently the US was insisting on unconditional and immediate adherence to the CTBT by India (and Pakistan ), but it may be willing now to consider some credible movement in this direction. A State Department spokesman said the President has been authorised to waive sanctions "if India or Pakistan were to change their positions and to join in one way or another" the CTBT and other international regimes. What does ‘one way or another’ precisely denotes only time will reveal. But this much is certain that failure of the sanctions to pressurise India has forced the U.S to rethink its policy. The US has also realised that not much can be done once the nuclear tests have been conducted. At the same time it is firm in its resolve not to do anything that would convey a message to the international community that ‘gate crashers’ into the nuclear club went unpunished. How the US manages to reconcile these paradoxes is certainly going to produce considerable head scratching on its part. India is certainly is in an advantageous position after withstanding the pressure of the sanctions. And if India plays its cards well it could extract some relaxations on the present curbs on import of dual-use technology in lieu of signing the CTBT.



It is believed that the US will leave no stone unturned to ensure that the nuclear hegemony of the P-5 remains unchallenged. But it should be emphasised that the US should be aware that the need of the hour is to ease tensions. Punitive actions like refusing visas to Indian scientists and deporting them from American soil would only prove counter-productive.