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Monday, 27 May, 2002, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Straw's 'death and destruction' warning
Pakistani paramilitary soldiers on guard in a Karachi street
Jack Straw hopes to diffuse tensions

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has made it clear there has been no change in policy over arms sales to India and Pakistan despite escalating tensions between the two countries.


There is no arms embargo, no suspension of arms, no contract to rule on

Downing Street

Mr Straw made his comments as he issued a stark warning about the consequences of a full-scale war between the two nuclear powers.

"The current tension and the build up of military forces in Kashmir could all too easily spiral out of control into a conventional and then a nuclear conflict of a kind we have never seen before," Mr Straw told an audience of diplomats in Berlin.

He said the consequences of such a war were "all too easy to describe: death, destruction, disease and economic collapse affecting not just the immediate war theatre but many parts of the sub-continent and lasting for years".

'No embargo'

The foreign secretary is flying to South Asia in an effort to broker a peace deal between India and Pakistan.


It must be wise for exports to be temporarily suspended

Michael Ancram, shadow foreign secretary
But his mission has been overshadowed by a row over the UK's policy on arms sales to the two countries.

According to Monday's Daily Telegraph, Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt signed an order on Thursday suspending arms exports to both India and Pakistan.

The newspaper said the move could jeopardise negotiations between BAE Systems and India over the sale of 66 Hawk advanced training aircraft worth about 1bn.

But the story was flatly denied by Tony Blair's official spokesman.

"There is no arms embargo, no suspension of arms, no contract to rule on," he told reporters.

'Case by case'

Mr Straw, questioned in Berlin about the situation, added: "There are no plans for an embargo. There is not any confusion. There are a set of national and EU criteria in arms sales to which we are signatories.

"They take account of a wide variety of possible circumstances, for example military build-up.

"Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis."

International concern

Shadow foreign secretary Michael Ancram expressed concern at the government's apparent confusion over its arms export policy.

"With the present situation between Pakistan and India being so tense, it must be wise for exports to be temporarily suspended," he said.

"While we sympathise with those whose jobs might be affected, it is vital that both India and Pakistan are fully aware of the extent of international concern about the present crisis."

Urgent 'de-escalation'

Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke to Pervez Musharraf ahead of a nationwide television address by the Pakistan President.

In the address, President Musharraf said tension with India was "at its height" and there was a danger war could break out.

Mr Blair also spoke with his Indian counterpart Atal Behari Vajpayee on Monday afternoon, Downing Street said.

"The prime minister underlined the need for an urgent de-escalation in the tensions between India and Pakistan," Mr Blair's official spokesman said.

Foreign Office Minister Ben Bradshaw said the foreign secretary would tell President Musharraf that he must stop the infiltration and the terrorist attacks on India.

Patience running out

"One of the things the foreign secretary will be doing when he meets the Pakistani president is making that quite plain. We expect a great deal more to be done.

"He has said he will do it. He hasn't and the Indians are right to feel aggrieved about that."

But once Pakistan had made efforts to stop infiltration "along the line of control", Mr Straw would expect India to "de-escalate" and resume dialogue with Pakistan, Mr Bradshaw added.

In a speech carried live on television, Prime Minister Vajpayee repeated that India's patience was running out with militant attacks in Indian-Kashmir that Delhi blames on Pakistan.

US President George Bush has urged the two countries to show restraint, and expressed "strong reservations" about Pakistan's new missile tests.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Britain is signed up to tough European guidelines on arms sales"
Bernard Jenkin, Conservative defence spokesman
"There is confusion at the heart of government"
Click here fror background reports and analysis

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See also:

27 May 02 | South Asia
24 May 02 | South Asia
27 May 02 | UK Politics
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