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Indian defense minister talks down nuclear threat

A Pakistani soldier keeps watch along the tense Line of Control in Kashmir
A Pakistani soldier keeps watch along the tense Line of Control in Kashmir  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Dismissing talk of potential nuclear war Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes says he believes disagreements between Pakistan and India will be resolved through diplomatic efforts.

"It is a lack of maturity that makes people talk like this," Fernandes said in Washington Thursday after being asked about concerns nuclear war could break out in the region.

"I don't believe any mature person would talk of a nuclear conflict, a nuclear war."

He went on to say that nuclear powers have had disputes over the years -- "and not minor disputes, but major disputes" -- without resorting to nuclear war.

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"Any mature country or person would clearly look at the nuclear weapon as a deterrent," he said.

Fernandes met with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld earlier in the day about a variety of issues, including the international war against terrorism as well as the India-Pakistan situation.

He said India "fully supports" the war against terror and has been doing its part in that fight.


Fernandes said he shared India's "deep concern and anger" over a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament December 13 that left 14 dead. He said the attack "struck at the most cherished value of our democracy and was aimed to liquidate the entire political leadership of the country."

He added, "The people of India cannot accept such acts of terrorism."

The defense minister's meetings came as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell met with top Indian officials in New Delhi.

"We hope that the current situation can be resolved as quickly as possible," Powell said.

Fernandes echoed that sentiment in Washington. He said the involved countries "understand each other's problems and we would certainly like this to be resolved at the soonest."

Diplomatic efforts, he said, have "yielded substantial results" and that he was confident more will be accomplished.

"I feel that we will resolve these problems through diplomatic efforts."


George Fernandes
Fernandes: 'No mature person would talk of nuclear war'  

However, he said India will not withdraw its troops from its border with Pakistan until the Pakistanis show greater commitment to fighting terrorism. And he defended India's placement of anti-tank mines along the border due to the "fact that there is Pakistani armor all set on the other side of the border."

"India stands ready to defend its territory and our armed forces are committed to this task. De-escalation of forces can come only when cross-border terrorism has been effectively stopped," he said.

Powell said Pakistan had made progress, including the arrests of extremists, the banning of suspect organizations and closing of such organizations' offices.

India has handed to Pakistan a list of 20 people New Delhi has identified as terrorists and wants arrested.

"We are hoping things will move in the right direction quickly," Fernandes said.




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