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Lawmakers Call For Tough U.S. Response To India's Nuclear Tests

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 13) -- Capitol Hill is reacting sharply to India's five underground nuclear test explosions, as lawmakers express concerns that the Southeast Asian country's move might destabilize the region.

Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee , called the Indian tests a major mistake and said the Clinton Administration should press India to sign a nuclear nonprofileration treaty as a non-nuclear state, meaning it would agree not to build the nuclear weapons it is now capable of producing. The committee held hearings Wednesday.

Helms

"We don't need to worry about the Indian nuclear tests if India has agreed not to have these weapons in the first place," Helms said.

Helms said the United States should not allow India to "paper over" its decision to go forward with nuclear weapons by now signing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty as a nuclear weapons nation.

"The Indian government has not shot itself in the foot. Most likely it has shot itself in the head," said Helms. "By conducting five nuclear tests India made a major miscalculation not merely about the United States but about India's own capability. The Indian government has deluded itself into the absurd assumption that the possession of nuclear weapons will make India into a superpower at a time when hundreds of millions of India's people are in abject poverty."

Helms said the United States' response "must be vigorous international sanctions against India" to be lifted only when the threat of an Indian nuclear attack has been rolled back.

U.S. law requires the imposition of sanctions against a state that conducts nuclear tests ,under an amendment introduced by Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio). President Bill Clinton announced Wednesday he would impose those sanctions.

"I will never support the lifting of the Glenn Amendment's sanctions on India unless they abandon all nuclear ambitions," said Helms.

The failure of U.S. intelligence to predict India's intended action prompted House Speaker Newt Gingrich to say Congress needs to be prepared to pay more to avoid future surprises.

Gingrich

When India set off the nuclear explosions, Gingrich said, "Frankly I believe that there's too little funding for intelligence, we have too few assets and too few analysts. And I think if the Congress and others are going to demand a greater capacity in intelligence we're going to have to be prepared to pay for a more sophisticated and a more intense structure of intelligence capabilities, and I think its wrong for some members of Congress to vote to cut intelligence spending, to vote to cut the number of intelligence analysts and then to set unrealistically high demands on the intelligence community."

Asked whether the CIA was at fault for not knowing about the tests, Gingrich said, "You have to ask how much did they know, did they brief the administration on it and what were they doing? And then, second, you have to ask if you really want the kind of real time coverage that some people want, are you willing to pay for that level of asset and level of analysis? It's a very expensive proposition."

Earlier Wednesday, Defense Secretary Bill Cohen appeared before the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, and told members India's nuclear tests will unavoidably lead to a "chain reaction of other countries following suit."

Cohen said "there will be pressure on Pakistan." The U.S. is urging restraint, but "other counties will see this as an open invitation to try to acquire the technology," he said.

"We have a real proliferation problem that's taking place globally," Cohen told the panel. "This is only going to contribute to that. And it's going to cause other countries to find a rationale, much as India has found its rationale for showing it has a nuclear power."

Cohen told senators the sanctions announced by Clinton are the best option for now, but will only succeed if a number of other nations agree to abide by them.

CNN's John Bisney contributed to this report.
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