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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Deputy Secretary Talbott
Address at the Institute of Strategic Studies,
Islamabad, Pakistan, February 2, 1999

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Pakistan, the U.S., and the Quest for Common Ground

Thank you, Ambassador Khan, for that kind introduction, and thanks to all of you for making my colleagues and me feel so welcome. I will be brief, in order to leave maximum time for give-and-take.

But first, let me introduce my traveling companions: General Joe Ralston, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Rick Inderfurth, our Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia; Gary Samore, Assistant to the President and Senior Director of the National Security Council staff; Bob Einhorn, the senior non-proliferation specialist of the State Department; Matt Daley of our South Asia Bureau; and Karen Mathiasen, Director of the South and Central Asia office at the Department of the Treasury.

The depth and diversity of our team reflects the wide range of issues that the U.S. and Pakistan are addressing together -- or perhaps I should say, the wide range of issues that we ought to be addressing together, if we were tilling together the vast territory of interests we have in common. Regrettably, however, we are not doing so; much of our common ground lies fallow.

When my colleagues and I sat down with Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad and his superb team at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier today for the eighth round of a dialogue we have been conducting since last June, we concentrated, yet again, on one topic far more than any other. You all know what that topic is: nuclear weaponry, ballistic missiles and their saliency to international life on the eve of the 21st century.

Important -- indeed, momentous -- as that subject is, we in Washington feel that a dialogue confined to non-proliferation does not do justice either to the rich history or to the vast potential of U.S.-Pakistani relations. I sense that same frustration is felt here in Islamabad.

Nor did this preoccupation arise for the first time last May. Almost exactly 5 years ago, in February 1994, when I became Deputy Secretary of State, President Clinton asked me to make Pakistan the first stop on my first trip abroad. At issue then as now were a range of security and non-proliferation issues that dominated our agenda. I was aware of the danger that the government-to-government interaction had become excessively one-dimensional. Therefore, even in addressing the subject of the hour -- which was fissile material and F-16s -- I tried also to make sure that we kept our eye on the broader strategic picture: that is, the opportunity for the U.S. and Pakistan to work together on a wide variety of economic, social, political, and strategic goals in the region and beyond.

Just as one example, since I was then as I am now dealing with the former Soviet Union, I hoped to use my visit to Pakistan in 1994 to share assessments and coordinate diplomacy with regard to several of the New Independent States to your north. On an even broader geographical scope, I also wanted to talk with my hosts here in Islamabad about how Pakistan might serve as an anchor of stability in the region and provide a powerful model of democracy and Islamic tolerance. As I hope you all know, this is a subject of particular interest and importance to President Clinton.

But I will confess: Those broader subjects did not get the attention they deserved in my talks here 5 years ago -- any more than they got the attention they deserved earlier today. Then, as now, my Pakistani interlocutors and I did not succeed in overcoming the gravitational pull of the immediate security and non-proliferation issues.

We have an adage about life in government back in Washington that often applies to diplomacy as well: "The urgent tends to drive out the merely important." For many years, that seems to have been a perverse motto of U.S.-Pakistani relations. The urgency of non-proliferation asserted itself more dramatically than ever last May, when India exploded its weapons beneath the sands of the Pokhran Desert in Rajasthan.

At President Clinton's behest, I made an emergency trip to Islamabad with the assignment of trying to convince Pakistan's leadership that its interests were best served by not testing. While my arguments obviously proved unpersuasive, I feel I got a fair hearing; I fully appreciated -- and faithfully reported -- the tremendous political and strategic pressure that drove your government to order its own tests in the Chigai Hills of Baluchistan. While my government disagreed with yours profoundly on the decision itself, we understood and continue to understand your concerns with a nuclear-capable India and your desire to ensure that your vital security interests are protected.

The concerns we have expressed since then have prominently included concerns about Pakistan's own safety and welfare. We were convinced at the time and remain convinced now that the nuclear tests constituted a serious setback to Pakistan's standing in the eyes of the world -- and to its prospects for economic recovery. But in the 8 months since then, we, the United States, have not confined ourselves to criticism or exhortation or lamentation.

Rather, we have seen it as our challenge, working with your government, to find a way of managing our disagreement -- and of three immutable, inescapable facts of life: 1) Pakistan's decision to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles; 2) the U.S.'s commitment to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, arms control, and disarmament; and 3) both countries' desire to restore the U.S.-Pakistani relationship to one of unfettered, unambiguous mutual respect and mutual benefit, which means, in the first instance, lifting sanctions.

The quest for such a reconciliation has been the driving force behind my dialogue with Shamshad Ahmad, just as it was the principal objective in President Clinton's mind when he met with Prime Minister Sharif twice last year - in New York last September at the UN and again in the White House in December. In those meetings, our leaders talked not only about the urgent issue -- how to achieve a breakthrough in our dialogue -- but also about the "merely important" one of developing a broad-gauge, multi-dimensional strategic partnership worthy of our common values and common interests.

In his own approach to this challenge, President Clinton believes that our desire for a strong, safe, secure, prosperous Pakistan is entirely consistent with our hope that the world will, in the years ahead, rely less and less on nuclear weapons and that Pakistan will contribute to movement in that direction. Moreover, we believe that in the short and medium term, without necessarily abandoning or reversing the decision it made last year -- however regrettable the U.S., as your friend, believes that decision to have been -- Pakistan can still take concrete, positive steps that will bring it back into the mainstream of the international community in its struggle against the spread of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery means.

First and foremost of such steps would be signing and depositing the CTBT. Other such steps would include helping to bring about an end to the production of fissile material worldwide, contributing to the tightening of international export controls and helping to bring about what my friend Shamshad Ahmad calls a "strategic restraint regime" -- which would mean, both conceptually and operationally, defining Pakistan's own defense posture in a way that avoids exacerbating political tensions and military competition on the subcontinent.

By thus making itself demonstrably part of the solution to the problem of non-proliferation, Pakistan would make it much easier for the international community to assist this country in dealing with its most pressing problems, particularly in the area of international finance and economic reform. It would also be far easier for the United States to cooperate with Pakistan in strengthening its conventional defense capabilities.

It is with this logic in mind that General Ralston and I have conducted our side of the dialogue. We do so in a spirit of total respect for Pakistan's sovereignty. We take it as given that the only appropriate and workable solution to the nuclear issue is one that Pakistan's leaders, Pakistan's parliament, and Pakistan's people clearly see as in their own best long-term interests.

It is in that same spirit of mutual respect and common interest that we view the situation next door in Afghanistan. Events in that troubled land gave the U.S. and Pakistan an opportunity to work together not just in prosecuting the Cold War, but also in accelerating its end. In fact, it could be said that our strategic joint venture on the far side of the Khyber Pass was, in a sense, the last battle of the Cold War.

Sadly, today Afghanistan is the locus of one of the first, most severe, and most ominous battles of the post-Cold War World: the battle against the forces of terrorism, extremism, and intolerance. I hope -- all Americans hope -- that the U.S. and Pakistan are as much on the same side in that new struggle as we were in the old one.

Before going to your questions and comments, there is one more point I should touch upon. So far, I have concentrated on the four non-proliferation goals that the U.S. is pursuing with Pakistan. There is a fifth issue as well, one that also involves your security and that of the region. This is the question of the relationship between Pakistan and India.

The United States supports and encourages the efforts of both countries to resolve the disputes that divide them, including the question of Jammu and Kashmir. We have listened carefully to what you have said on this subject, we understand the centrality of this issue to you, and we will do everything we can to help. I assure you that I pressed this point during my visit to Delhi over the weekend.

As it happened, I was there at a rather dramatic moment in Pakistani-Indian relations. I should immediately confess that despite having lived 3 years in the United Kingdom, I never figured out the game of cricket. As a baseball fan, I'm mystified at how a team can be 27 runs ahead and still lose. Anyway, congratulations to Pakistan on the athletic outcome -- and congratulations to your Indian hosts for having put on an impressive display of good-sportsmanship.

We have seen some other positive steps in recent months. When I saw him yesterday, Prime Minister Vajpayee expressed satisfaction and cautious optimism regarding his talks with Prime Minister Sharif. Foreign Secretary Ragunath made similar comments with respect to the process he has been conducting with my friend Shamshad. And the Lahore-Delhi bus route is clearly of more than just symbolic value.

Ambassador Khan, I promised to be brief. I have put these thoughts forward as much as anything to stimulate discussion. Just one concluding thought, if I might: From the beginning of the current process, eight rounds and 8 months ago, the U.S. position in the dialogue with Pakistan has reflected an earnest effort to understand and to the extent possible to take account of Pakistan's concerns, aspirations, and perspectives.

In short, my colleagues and I came here to Islamabad -- and, more specifically, to the Institute for Strategic Studies -- as much to listen as to talk, as much to be advised as to express our own hopes and concerns. So it is in that spirit, Ambassador Khan, that I turn the proceedings back over to you for what I'm sure will be a lively discussion. And I trust we'll talk about the "merely important" as well as the urgent matters that concern us all.

[End of Document]

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