India will not accept a moratorium on the production of fissile material

NEW DELHI, Dec 15 (AFP) - India will not accept a moratorium on the production of fissile material, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said Tuesday, hinting that he wanted concessions from declared nuclear powers before he signed a global test ban treaty.

Vajpayee, briefing parliament on the eighth round of talks with the United States scheduled for next month on New Delhi's May nuclear tests and its opposition to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), said India would not accept "restraints" on nuclear research and development.

"While our decision is to maintain the deployment of a deterrent which is both minimum but credible ... the government will not not accept any restraints on the development of India's R and D capabilities.

"Such activity is an integral to any country's defence preparedness and essential for coping with new threat perceptions that may emerge in the years ahead," he said in an attempt to create a national consensus on the issue.

The prime minister said India was "unequivocally opposed" to any measures to place it at a technological disadvatange through "intrusive or sovereignty-violative measures" such as a moratorium on fissile material production.

"We have conveyed that it is not not possible to take such a step at this stage," he said.

Vajpayee said he wanted the "key interlocuters," including the United States, to create a "positive environment" -- a euphemism for concessions -- for India to sign the CTBT.

Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh and US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott are scheduled to hold an eighth round of talks in the second half of January in New Delhi on the issue.

Singh, a former Indian army officer, is a known confidant of Vajpayee, who ordered the string of nuclear tests that triggered a tit-for-tat reponse from neighbouring Pakistan.

Singh has since held seven closed-door meetings with Talbott, which he described as resulting in "some progress," including the narrowing down of proposals put forward by India regarding the "Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), export controls and defence posture".

The US wants India to sign the CTBT, something successive governments in New Delhi have refused, alleging it favours the leading nuclear powers.

The US has made it clear that it also wants both India and Pakistan to halt the production of fissile material and restrict the development, deployment, stockpiling and testing of missiles.

India has vowed to sign the CTBT before September 1999, strengthen non-proliferation controls and continue talks with Pakistan, despite the lack of progress so far.

As well as the lifting of the sanctions, New Delhi wants US recognition of India's right to ensure its national security vis-a-vis Pakistan and China, as well as access to nuclear technology transfers.

Vajpayee said the lifting of international sanctions on India showed that "there now now exists some understanding of our security concerns and requirements."

He added he was regularly in touch with US President Bill Clinton.

"Our correspondence has touched not not only upon issues under discussion between our representatives but also on larger aspects of Indo-US relations," he said.

Before signing the CTBT, India also wants guarantees that all the signatories will ratify the treaty. So far only France and Britain among the five recognised nuclear powers have done so.