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Pakistan says it's in no hurry to conduct nuclear test

May 15, 1998
Web posted at: 1:48 p.m. EDT (1748 GMT)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani Prime Minister Nawas Sharif said Friday his country is in no rush to conduct a nuclear test even though it has had the capability to do so for at least 20 years.

An American delegation led by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott met with Pakistani officials Friday morning and was to meet with them again Friday afternoon in an effort to convince Pakistan not to conduct a nuclear test.

Since India's detonation of five nuclear devices at a desert range Monday and Wednesday, spy satellites have detected an influx of equipment, technicians and security activities at a Chagai Hills, a Pakistani nuclear test site near the Iranian border.

U.S. officials in Washington have warned that Pakistan could explode a device as early as Sunday.

"Let's hope the area will be calm. But we're all concerned," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Shelby said following a two-hour closed door briefing Thursday with CIA Director George Tenet and other intelligence officials.

Sharif told CNN that Pakistan "wants to act responsibly" and said he is looking forward to seeing what proposals Talbott has brought.

U.S. diplomats
U.S. diplomats in Islamabad  

Diplomats say Talbott would offer Pakistan, whose economy is creaking under the burden of a $30 billion debt, inducements to keep its nuclear device in cold storage and prevent a sharp escalation of tension in the region.

"It will be the carrot and stick approach," said one European diplomat. "But I fear that he may find that national pride does not have a price."

He would also point to heavy sanctions clamped on India by the United States and Japan as proof of Washington's resolve to keep a lid on tension in a flashpoint region, they said.

Sanctions could cause economic crisis

Economists warned that Pakistan's battered economy would slump into deep crisis if its backers imposed sanctions.

"If Pakistan conducts a nuclear test it will have serious repercussions on our economy," said Sajjad Akther, an economist with the Canadian-funded Social Policy and Development Center.

There was speculation the United States might offer to drop its opposition to the delivery of a fleet of F-16 jets that Pakistan ordered but that was blocked.

In 1990, the delivery of a fleet of planes from General Dynamics was blocked by a U.S. judgment that Islamabad possessed nuclear weapons.

The United States returned about $150 million to Pakistan but another $501 million remained in dispute.

Pakistan has threatened legal action in the United States to recover the money and Clinton, who is expected to visit the region in November, has told Islamabad he would like to see the row resolved, Pakistani officials said.

The Pakistani government's announcement comes after earlier threats of nuclear testing.

"Our position is quite clear...our response will be in keeping with the threats we are facing and with our national security interests," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Tariq Altaf after meeting with Talbott.

The English-language daily Nation said the Cabinet, "barring a few meek voices," wanted a test explosion and had established a special six-man committee to study Islamabad's options.

Reuters contributed to this report.


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