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Saturday, May 16, 1998 Published at 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK

India admits N-bomb capability

Bomb or not, India's nuclear tests have already fired international protests, including in Islamabad

Prime Minister Vajpayee: "Whatever we have done is for self-defence."(1'19") (Hindi)
The Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, has said for the first time that his country is a nuclear weapons state and that the time had arrived to lift the veil of ambiguity over its nuclear programme.

Mr Vajpayee said the country had the capacity to build a big bomb and command and control systems were already in place.

[ image: Prime Minister Vajpayee has ended the vagueness]
Prime Minister Vajpayee has ended the vagueness
His comments follow five controversial underground nuclear tests which have attracted widespread condemnation from the international community.

The prime minister also said that India's weapons programme was intended only for self-defence and that economic sanctions should not be imposed against India because of the tests.

He said the country would not be hurt by any international action and confirmed it could not sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty as it now stands but could discuss adherence to parts of it.

According to the BBC Delhi Correspondent, Daniel Lak, Mr Vajpayee's comments have ended years of deliberate vagueness about India's nuclear weapons development.

Initial confusion

The prime minister's comments emerged from an interview with the news magazine, India Today.

Earlier transcripts of the interview sent by both the government and the magazine to the BBC had quoted the prime minister as saying unequivocally that India had a "big bomb", which would have been a far stronger statement.

But embarrassed officials issued a correction several hours later, blaming a typist who had done the transcript.

According to Indian officials, what Mr Vajpayee actually said was that India had "the capacity to make a big bomb"

In neighbouring Pakistan a senior delegation from the United States is trying to persuade the government in Islamabad not to carry out its own nuclear tests.

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