In the first coordinated international response to the nuclear crisis in South Asia, representatives from five of the world's most powerful nations pledged Thursday to cooperate closely to head off a nuclear arms race in the troubled region.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the foreign ministers of China, Russia, France and Britain also condemned India and Pakistan for conducting their nuclear tests last month; urged the two countries to join the global agreements aimed at halting nuclear proliferation; and pledged to seek solutions to the territorial dispute over the Kashmir region, an exceedingly sensitive issue that has triggered two of the three Indo-Pakistani wars since 1947.
The ministers left no doubt that neither India nor Pakistan will receive the privileged status enjoyed by the globe's five declared nuclear states.
"Notwithstanding their recent nuclear tests, India and Pakistan do not have the status of nuclear weapons states in accordance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," the ministers said in a communique.
Their nations, permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, are the only ones permitted to possess nuclear weapons under the 3-decade-old set of global agreements aimed at stemming atomic proliferation.
As the first major international response to the world's latest nuclear arms crisis, the results of Thursday's session were decidedly modest.
The ministers adopted language that tended to be general in nature. Their final communique addressed virtually no issue in detail, and the idea of possible mediation of the Kashmir crisis by third-party nations was sidestepped.
In all likelihood, India will summarily reject most elements of the communique, if for no other reason than this session was chaired by China, its longtime adversary.
Still, participants and outside observers agreed that the most important message that came from this meeting was that the powers believed that they had enough in common to sit down and address the South Asian nuclear crisis. No such similar meeting of the ministers, devoted to a single situation seen as a threat to all, has occurred.
"Small steps are needed to prepare for big ones," noted Tang Jiaxuan, the Chinese foreign minister and chair of the proceedings.
"We have no illusions we are going to succeed overnight," Albright said. "But a process has begun. We're at the beginning of a process to bring [the two nations] back from the brink. We've set forth a unified . . . message on what we are calling on India and Pakistan to do. We want to see how this message is received. They had better look and listen to what has happened."
Albright and Tang insisted that the five nations were acting on behalf of the world community.
The ministers urged India and Pakistan against any advance from testing to deployment of nuclear weapons, a development that they said would gravely complicate efforts to contain the crisis.
"If we can stop the Indian and Pakistani programs [after] testing but before deployment, it would achieve a great deal," one U.S. official said.
Speaking at a news conference Thursday, Albright said the five nations also want to work with India and Pakistan to seek ways to reduce tensions between them, suggesting that the U.S. and at least some of the others are ready to share "capabilities and expertise" to build confidence between the two longtime adversaries.
A U.S. official later said the nations will offer to improve a hotline linking New Delhi and Islamabad; create a center devoted to bolstering any efforts to reduce Indo-Pakistani tensions; and propose an "open skies initiative" to let aircraft from each country observe the other's military activities.
Still, Albright took personal note of the intractable nature of the Kashmir dispute.
She said her first visit to the Palace of Nations, where Thursday's talks were conducted, occurred when she was 10. She was with her father, a Czech diplomat assigned to help resolve the Kashmir problem.
"Now he's dead, and I'm old, and it's still going on," she said.
Tang--whose nation fought a war against India in 1962 and provided much of the technology Pakistan used in its nuclear quest--assailed the government in New Delhi for "undermining the peace and stability in the region."
The ministers agreed that representatives from the Group of 8 leading nations will take up the issue June 12 in London.
* L.A. PROTEST: Revitalized antinuclear activists plan a demonstration outside Pakistani Consulate. B1