August 15, 2001
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Armitage hints at early lifting of sanctions on India

Aziz Haniffa in Washington

American Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who met India's Ambassador in Washington Lalit Mansingh, said the Bush administration would take up with Congress the issue of lifting the sanctions imposed on India in May 1998 after its Pokhran nuclear tests. But he refrained from giving a time frame in which such action would take place.

Senior diplomatic sources said Armitage promised Mansingh that when Congress reconvenes after its summer recess, the state department would convey to the lawmakers the administration's willingness to lift the post-Pokhran sanctions and seek their approval.

Under the provision of the permanent presidential authority granted by Congress, the administration does not need legislation or a yes vote from lawmakers to waive the sanctions against India. But the state department is well aware of the sensitivities of Congress if any such action is taken without consulting it.

"This [the lifting of sanctions] is under very active consideration by the administration," the sources said. "Keep your eyes and ears open in the month of September." But they acknowledged that Armitage had not given Mansingh any time frame.

State department deputy spokesman Philip Reeker had said on Monday, after a report in The Washington Post over the weekend that the lifting of sanctions against India was imminent, that while the use of sanctions as a diplomatic tool was itself being reviewed, "specifically we're reviewing the policy on South Asia sanctions, no decision has yet been made".

But, he iterated, "there's nothing, in terms of a decision that's been made -- obviously we'll continue to consult Congress on those issues."

The diplomatic sources said that while Mansingh had brought up the pre-Pokhran sanctions against India too, which prohibit the transfer of various types of dual-use technology, the sanctions under consideration for being lifted are only those imposed after the tests.

"While we expect early action on the post-1998 sanctions, we are not so sure of the pre-1998 sanctions," they said.

"I doubt very much that the pre-1998 sanctions will be lifted," one source said. "They are quite complicated. They will have to go through a separate exercise."

The sources also said the administration had given 'no time table' as to when even the post-1998 sanctions would be lifted, notwithstanding a consensus in various agencies within the government that these have to go.

The fate of the dreaded Entities List also remains unknown. Months ago in a briefing to the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans, Armitage had ducked the issue, saying it was not part of the general economic sanctions that were under consideration for being lifted.

The sources denied that the possible lifting of sanctions against India was a quid pro quo for India's support to President George W Bush's proposed national missile defence system. "Doing a deal or quid pro quo just does not arise," they asserted.

The sources said President Bush was likely to visit India in the "first quarter of next year", but asserted that "we are not focusing on immediate dates yet".

"The dates will be fixed through diplomatic channels," they added.

They, however, acknowledged that Bush and Prime Minister A B Vajpayee were expected to meet in September on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly's annual session in New York.

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