Putin, India To Discuss Concerns About Safety Of Pakistan's Nukes

By T.C. Malhotra | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

New Delhi (CNSNews.com) - Concerns that weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Pakistan could fall into the hands of terrorists is likely to be a key issue during talks between Indian leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who arrived in India late Tuesday.

During a two-day visit Putin is expected to sign several bilateral agreements, although it is still unclear if these will include defense deals.

On the eve of the visit, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, reiterated Moscow's support for New Delhi on the issue of cross-border terrorism, even as a Russian-Pakistani joint working group on terrorism met in Moscow.

Russia "shares the view that Pakistan must honor its obligations to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure on the territory under its control," Ivanov told the government-owned daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

India has long accused Pakistan of backing Islamic militants fighting to end Indian rule in part of Kashmir, the Himalayan territory divided between the two rivals, and claimed in its entirety by both.

Pakistan, which has allied itself to the U.S. in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan, has taken steps against locally based radicals, but India says they are insufficient.

Earlier, Putin expressed concern that Pakistan-held nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of "bandits and terrorists."

Pakistan and India both became declared nuclear powers with tit-for-tat tests in May 1998.

In interviews with Indian media at the Kremlin, Putin said despite assurances from President Pervez Musharraf that the weapons were in safe hands, "to be frank, our concerns, our anxiety still persists."

"What we are worried about is not only the fact that the WMD could fall into the hands of bandits and terrorists - this is exactly how I would like to call these persons rather than just militants - but we also have concerns they could obtain information concerning production techniques of even simple means that could be equal to the WMD in their destructive potential," he said.

The Russian president said he did not have any information that Pakistan was transferring military technologies or weapons' systems to other countries.

According to recent reports citing U.S. intelligence sources, Pakistan collaborated with North Korea in the nuclear weapons technology and ballistic missile fields until several months ago.

Putin also welcomed a decision by India and Pakistan to pull back their respective troops from the international border after a long and tense standoff, saying this was a "movement absolutely in the right direction."

His comments about weapons safety prompted Islamabad to release a statement reiterating its view that "no one should have any fear about our nuclear assets. They are under very tight control."

It said the Pakistani government had already protested to the Russian ambassador after previous comments by Putin in this regard.

Pakistan had pointed out that Moscow's own system of safeguarding nuclear assets and technology "was a matter of serious concern to the international community," the statement added, citing reports of alleged smuggling of nuclear materials out of Russia.

For his part, Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called on the international community to take a serious notice of Putin's comments.

They were nothing less than a warning to the world that could not be ignored, he told journalists in northern India.

It was time for the world community to ponder over the matter, Vajpayee said, adding that the subject would feature high on the agenda during Putin's visit.

Indian analysts said Putin's stance came as something of a morale boost for the country.

"Russia is more understanding of our situation regarding terrorism than ever in the past," said New Delhi College professor Bhim Singh Dahiya Tuesday.

"It is also supportive of our strategic and security concerns," he added.

Defense analyst M.K. Laul said India and Russia both faced an Islamic terrorist threat.

"They understand each other and appreciate each other's efforts on this issue," Laul said.

Strategic analyst Rajeev Sharma noted that, not long ago, Musharraf was suggesting that Moscow mediate between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir dispute.

"Putin's statement ... pours cold water on General Pervez Musharraf's desperate attempts to mollycoddle Moscow," he said.

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