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Nuclear Test Threatens U.S. Economic Support for India

By Jim Mann
Los Angeles Times

In the first use of a sweeping anti-nuclear law, the Clinton administration quietly warned India last month that if it conducts a nuclear test, the United States will cut off virtually all the economic benefits it receives from this country.

The unpublicized message was delivered after U.S. intelligence officials detected early signs that India might be preparing to conduct a nuclear test explosion. U.S. officials, reportedly including U.S. Ambassador to India Frank Wisner, cautioned the government in New Delhi that any such test would prompt the administration to invoke a little-known 1994 statute called the Glenn Amendment.

That law requires the United States to cut off all economic aid, military aid, credits, bank loans and export licenses to any country, other than the five acknowledged nuclear powers, that tests a nuclear weapon. Even more important for India, the law dictates that the United States will oppose World Bank loans and all other international lending to the offending nation.

The loss of these benefits could cost India billions of dollars. Its loans from the World Bank alone amount to about $2 billion a year. India gets $173 million a year in economic aid from the United States. And the curb on export licenses would mean that, at least in theory, India would be unable even to buy new computers from this country.

The Glenn Amendment has never been invoked before. "This is the first time (since 1994) we've ever had a scare of any actual detonation," explained one U.S. official.

India conducted its only nuclear explosion in 1974, and has not carried out any new tests. Indian officials have denied that they were planning to do so, despite news reports in Washington last month of possible preparations for a new test.

Asked about the U.S. warning, Shyamala Cowsik, deputy chief of mission for the Indian Embassy in Washington, replied: "We know that the Glenn Amendment exists. But there has been no such demarche (official protest) with us here." She said she did not know of any warnings delivered in New Delhi.

The 1994 anti-proliferation law applies to all undeclared nuclear-weapons states. In effect, that means every country in the world except the five members of the U.N. Security Council: the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

Any other country - including, say, Israel or Pakistan, which like India are believed to have well-developed nuclear-weapons programs - would be subject to the same broad economic sanctions if it carried out a nuclear test.

A U.S. State Department spokesman declined to comment on the American warning to India. But another administration official confirmed: "We certainly brought to India's attention the legally mandated sanctions that would apply if they conducted a test."

In addition, the official said, Wisner delivered to New Delhi the message: "If you test, it will be awful for our bilateral relations."

India is now the third-largest recipient of loans from the World Bank, after China and Mexico. The United States is the leading shareholder in the World Bank, and thus has the greatest number of votes on the board that approves billions of dollars in bank loans.

The United States could not block World Bank loans to India without some support from other nations. But Japan and Germany, which have been strongly opposed to nuclear testing, are the World Bank's second and third leading shareholders.

Usually, when Congress passes a law that would impose economic sanctions on another nation, it includes language giving the president the power to grant a "waiver" blocking the sanctions from ever taking effect. In that way, Congress can appear to be taking tough action, while passing the buck to the president to limit the impact.

In the past, for example, Congress has passed laws imposing harsh penalties on South African apartheid, or missile proliferation by China, while leaving it to the White House to grant waivers of the sanctions if it wanted to do so.

But the unusual anti-nuclear provision, sponsored by Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, makes it virtually impossible for President Clinton to prevent the sanctions from taking effect.

It says the president can grant a single, 30-day delay of the penalties. After that, the president can waive the sanctions only if both houses of Congress formally approve a joint resolution authorizing him to do so.