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India Rejects Pakistan's Offer To Dismantle

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India rejects Pakistan's offer to dismantle nuclear weapons

By BETH DUFF-BROWN, Associated Press

NEW DELHI, India (May 8, 2003 4:15 p.m. EDT) - Days after reaching out to his rival neighbor, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said Thursday that India would not accept Pakistan's offer for mutual destruction of nuclear arsenals.

The nuclear disarmament offer came from Pakistan's foreign minister earlier in the week as part of a series of goodwill gestures starting with plans to exchange ambassadors as a first step toward improving relations.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who is in the region in an attempt encourage the fence-mending, met with Pakistani leaders Thursday and praised both Islamabad and New Delhi for efforts at reconciliation.

"I don't think it's useful for me to point a finger at India or for that matter to blame Pakistan for what's going on. We're in a situation that's been brought about by 50-odd years of history," Armitage said, denying that Washington was pressuring either side to improve relations.

Relations between the neighbors - who have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947 - hit bottom last summer. The sides sent hundreds of thousands of troops to their frontier after New Delhi accused Islamabad of backing a suicide attack on India's Parliament in December 2001. Pakistan denied involvement.

Since the Parliament attack, Vajpayee had insisted New Delhi would not resume dialogue with Islamabad until it ended the infiltration of Islamic militants across the cease-fire line that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan.

Guerrillas have been fighting since 1989 for Kashmir's independence or the merger of India's only Muslim-majority state with Islamic Pakistan. More than 63,000 people have been killed in separatist violence.

Armitage, after his talks with Pakistani leaders Thursday, said Pakistan had assured him that the infiltration had declined. India has long accused Pakistan of training the militants. Islamabad denies aiding the militants, saying the mountainous frontier is impossible to seal.

In rejecting the Pakistani offer for mutual nuclear disarmament, Vajpayee said Pakistan had only one target for its nuclear weapons - India - while New Delhi had built its arsenal to counter threats from other countries as well.

"We are seeking friendship with Pakistan, but we will be cautious," Vajpayee told Parliament during a debate on the peace overtures between the South Asian rivals.

"I have told the Pakistani leaders that India and Pakistan have to live together," he said. "We can change friends, but we can't change neighbors."

Besides the three wars with Pakistan, India also fought a border war with China in 1962, although relations are warming between New Delhi and Beijing.

On Monday, Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan said Pakistan would get rid of its nuclear arsenal if India did so. Islamabad also suggested making South Asia nuclear-free.

"We don't want to use all our resources on buying arms and weapons," Vajpayee said. "But we have to defend ourselves in case of a threat."

Pakistan and India declared themselves nuclear powers after detonating atomic bombs in 1998. Neither country has opened its arsenal to international inspectors and it is not known how many weapons they have.

The international community has been pressing both nations to improve relations.

Vajpayee told Parliament he launched the peace initiative with Pakistan two weeks ago - during a speech in Kashmir - after studying events elsewhere in the world.

He said when the United States - ignoring United Nations' objections - attacked Iraq, he decided India must embark on a new initiative on Kashmir.

"I felt that small, developing, nonaligned countries have to think about their future," said the 78-year-old prime minister, who would like to mark his place in history by sealing a lasting peace with Pakistan.

Vajpayee's offer to resume dialogue was immediately accepted by Pakistan. In the last week, both have pledged to restore diplomatic and travel links.

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