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Saturday, 26 January, 2002, 01:30 GMT
Powell laments India missile test
Agni II missile
Powell said a diplomatic solution must be found
US Secretary of State Colin Powell has criticised India for testing a nuclear-capable ballistic missile, but says he does not believe it will increase tensions with neighbouring Pakistan.

"It's still a tense situation there, [however] I remain pleased that both sides are looking for a diplomatic solution," he told reporters.

The test of the Agni missile, off India's eastern coast, has prompted criticism from Britain, Germany, Japan, Australia and the European Union.

Recent India-Pakistan launches
1998: Pakistan tests Hatf-V
1999: India tests Agni II
1999: Pakistan responds by testing Ghauri II three days later
2001: India tests Agni II while China's Li Peng on state visit
But BBC Delhi correspondent Satish Jacob said the test would cut no ice with Pakistan, which will see it as India flexing its military muscle. A Pakistani Foreign Office statement called the test, which took place on Friday morning, "prejudicial to the pursuit of stability in our region, especially during the current situation".

Relations have been fraught since last month's suicide bombing on the Indian parliament, which India blamed on Pakistan-backed militants. Both countries have since mobilised hundreds of thousands of troops.

The test was carried out on the eve of India's Republic Day, and was seen as sending a firm message to the country's nuclear neighbours, Pakistan and China.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said the test was one of several steps India was taking to ensure its own security.

"For the nation's security and protection, we are taking several steps and Agni is one among them," he said.

Advance warning

Nirupama Rao, spokeswoman for the External Affairs Ministry, said the test had been planned before the latest military escalation with Pakistan.

"[The test] was planned in advance. Its timing was determined solely by technical factors. It has no political significance or relationship to any event," she said.

India's Agni missile
1983: Programme begins
1994: Third test flight successful
1999: Longer range Agni II tested
2001: Agni II enters production
2002: Shorter range version tested
India said it had given advance warning of the test to Pakistan, as well as to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Nirupama Rao said the missile tested had a range of less than 700 kilometres (440 miles).

Analysts said the missile tested was possibly a shorter-range version of India's Agni II, which is now in production and has a range of more than 2,000 kilometres.

That missile was conceived as a deterrent against China, while a shorter-range version would be more effective against Pakistan.

Deterrent

The test took place over the Bay of Bengal, the missile having been launched from Wheeler's Island off the coast of Orissa state, according to the Press Trust of India.

Correspondents say the longer-range version of the Agni II is seen as a key element of India's plan to build a credible minimum nuclear deterrent to defend itself against its nuclear-armed neighbours.

The last test of an Agni II missile was almost exactly a year ago, during a high-profile state visit to India of Li Peng, the leader of China's parliament.

That test brought a swift condemnation from Pakistan, and caused concern in Beijing.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jim Fish
"Delhi was clearly aware of the impact these pictures would make"
Aziz Ahmed Khan, Pakistan Foreign Ministry
"The timing... is particularly deplorable"
Indian Minister for External Affairs Omar Abdullah
"We have a very fixed timetable"
See also:

25 Jan 02 | South Asia
Analysis: India's message to the region
25 Jan 02 | South Asia
Analysis: India's missile fears
16 Dec 01 | South Asia
India and Pakistan: Tense neighbours
02 May 00 | World
The world's nuclear arsenal
28 Dec 01 | South Asia
South Asia's high nuclear stakes
29 Feb 00 | South Asia
India's growing defence costs
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