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Word Games In Washington

Word Games In Washington
THE Place: Washington. Date: March 10, 1992. I was in the US capital for the first round of Indo-US bilateral talks, with my counterpart, Under Secretary of state Kantor, persuading India to fall in line with the US' non-proliferation advocacies. My principal interlocutor was Ambassador Lehman, director of the US Arms Control Agency. He said his piece in somewhat admonitory terms. I chanted India's "we will not sign the NPT come what may" mantra at him in response. Lehman got perturbed: "But your Prime Minister has agreed that you will talk to us bilaterally to work out areas of agreement from which progress can be made." I told him it was absolutely right and that we had already initiated some exchanges.

And then, just as Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was once warned in more aggressive terms by Kissinger, Lehman said, "We will continue talks, Mr Dixit. But if you are planning to play games, there is a threshold beyond which we will not allow you to continue." I replied: "When games are played one side loses, the other side wins and at times, Ambassador Lehman, losers even after losing remain fairly convinced about the excellence of their moves in the game." End of conversation.

Nearly a year and four months later, I am back in Washington. Lehman has been replaced by Lyn Davis. I lead the Indian delegation into her room. Pleasantries are followed by her advising me to speak first as I am the guest. I say that before we get into a discussion on non-proliferation, I have two questions. If the US is supportive of democratic governments because they are more responsible, does it believe that democratic countries should be able to decide what they should do to maintain their unity? Secondly, does the US agree that a sovereign state has the right to determine how to ensure its own defence and security?

Madam Lyn is put off: "But these are questions of philosophy and theory. These are not part of my brief. I am to convey our reservations to your deploying Prithvi missiles and carrying further experiments with Agni."

I insist she first consult her authorities and respond, adding, "As for Prithvi and Agni, Prithvi will be deployed as and when necessary and test flights of Agni will continue." I was not called in for a second meeting with Ms Davis.

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