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Saturday, January 30, 1999 Published at 16:09 GMT

World: South Asia

US, India extend nuclear talks

India's Agni missile on show for the first time on 26 January

India and the United States have extended the current round of talks on nuclear non-proliferation issues. The discussions, headed by Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, will continue on Sunday afternoon.

[ image: Talbott:
Talbott: "We are doing good work."
Diplomats descibed the sesssions on Friday and Saturday as "intensive". The two sides are trying to reconcile America's concerns about non-proliferation with Indian security interests.

"Because we have made some progress and because we have to make more progress we will be meeting again tomorrow," the Indian Foreign Minister told reporters.

An upbeat Mr Talbott called the discussions "worthwhile". "We are doing good work. It is to be continued," he added.

But despite positive expressions of goodwill neither side was willing to discuss details of this eighth round of talks since India and Pakistan conducted their underground nuclear tests last May.

"There is a clear intent to take the dialogue to a definitive position," an Indian foreign ministry official said, adding: "They are discussing complex issues. It has reached a stage where negotiations are narrowing down."

[ image: Singh:
Singh: "We have made progress."
Mr Talbott said the India and U.S. were looking to harmonise each other's interests but a key area of difference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) posed difficulties. "That is because India holds the view, with which we very strongly disagree, that for the forseeable future India must develop and deploy a nuclear deterrent," he said.

India criticises the NPT for being biased in favour of the five recognised nuclear states.

The US has been pressing India to exercise restraint with regard to its nuclear weapons and missile programmes. Last May's tests provoked sanctions from the US and other countries, and fears of a regional nuclear arms race.

Paul Danahar in Delhi: The Indo-US relationship is warming up.
But so far there has been no tangible progress, with India refusing to accept US attempts to apply benchmarks to aspects of its nuclear policy.

US insistence that India sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) is thought to have been the main focus of the talks, together with fissile material production, export controls and other non-proliferation issues.

India's Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has promised India will sign the CTBT before September. For its part, India wants to know when the US will ratify the treaty.

Loans wanted

Meanwhile, Mr Singh is expected to protest against continued US opposition to World Bank loans to India. Similar restrictions on Pakistan have been eased, while India is awaiting around $1.7bn in World Bank loans.

Mr Talbott said he understood the "ill feeling on the Indian side," but said while sanctions were regrettable, they remained "a fact of life."

After Delhi, Mr Talbott and his US delegation travel to Islamabad for further talks with the Pakistan government on non-proliferation issues.

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