IN THE FIRST trip of a U.S. president to South Asia since the Carter administration, President Clinton attempted to carefully balance efforts to build a stronger relationship with India with expressions of concern about continuing proliferation risks in the region. While the trip, which spanned March 20-25, did not resolve the many differences between the United States and India and Pakistan on the non-proliferation front, Clinton and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee did pledge to continue high-level dialogue on the subject.
The only tangible result of the Indian visit was a joint statement by Clinton and Vajpayee reaffirming their "respective voluntary commitments to forgo further nuclear explosive tests" and to work together to build stronger export controls and negotiate a fissile material cutoff treaty. The two leaders also pledged to schedule regular presidential summits and to continue the talks between U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, which have been the states' primary forum for dialogue on the nuclear issue since 1998.
A joint statement was not released after the president's half-day visit to Pakistan, but a senior administration official reported a "very firm assurance" from Pakistan's head of state General Pervez Musharraf that "Pakistan would not be the source of export of any dangerous technologies or weapons of mass destruction."
Though he avoided lecturing either government, at virtually every public speaking engagement Clinton asserted that the nuclear path would not enhance the security of either India or Pakistan. Appearing before the Indian parliament March 22, he noted that "India's nuclear policies, inevitably, have consequences beyond [its] borders: eroding the barriers against the spread of nuclear weapons…encouraging others to keep their options open." In a March 25 speech in Islamabad, he urged the Pakistani people to ask themselves, "Are you really more secure today than you were before you tested nuclear weapons? Will these weapons make war with India less likely, or simply more deadly?"
The response to Clinton's visit, especially in India, was positive on the whole, but mixed on the non-proliferation issue. Vajpayee reaffirmed to Clinton the security concerns that continued to drive India toward reliance on a nuclear deterrent, and the president seemed to acknowledge that, at least on this visit, little was to be gained by condemning that choice. During his speech to the Indian parliament, Clinton was interrupted by applause when he declared, "Only India can determine its own interests. Only India can know if it truly is safer today than before the tests."
Perhaps the only harsh words spoken during the visit came during the state dinner held March 21, when Indian President Kocheril Raman Narayan decried attempts to describe Kashmir as a flashpoint for nuclear war. Such statements, he said, "will only encourage those who want to break the peace and indulge in terrorism and violence."
A breakthrough on nuclear issues during Clinton's visit had not been expected, either by the administration or outside analysts. Acknowledging that there has been "little concrete progress" toward the non-proliferation benchmarks set out following the May 1998 nuclear tests, Robert Einhorn, assistant secretary of state for non-proliferation, noted March 16 that India and Pakistan have "grown overconfident about their ability to control events and control escalation…. Any limits on their programs have been kept to themselves." Those benchmarks included restraint on nuclear weapons deployment, movement toward signing the CTBT, restricted production of fissile materials, and establishment of effective export controls for nuclear-related technology.
The administration made clear that non-proliferation goals would not prevent progress in other aspects of the bilateral relationship—to a point. The president seeks a "huge and varied relationship" with India, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said March 21. While contending that the United States and India "ought to be talking about issues that are beyond and around the non-proliferation issue," Albright reminded New Delhi that "narrowing our differences on non-proliferation is important to realizing the full potential of our relationship." When pushed for clarification, White House national security adviser Samuel Berger indicated that the statement referred to restrictions on cooperation in U.S. non-proliferation law, notably the 1977 Glenn Amendment, which prohibits assistance to any non-nuclear-weapon state that detonates a nuclear device.