India's new Hindu nationalist government said Wednesday that it would review the country's nuclear weapons policy and might "induct nuclear weapons" into the military arsenal, a declaration that seemed likely to set off new anxiety about an arms race between India and Pakistan.
But the government almost immediately qualified its position by saying it would be "keeping the option open" on nuclear weapons, and previous governments have said much the same thing.The statement on nuclear weapons provided a striking counterpart to the otherwise conciliatory thrust of the "national agenda for governance" that was released Wednesday at a news conference by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, leader of the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. Vajpayee was sworn in as prime minister on Thursday morning.
In recent years, the Clinton administration has made strenuous efforts to persuade India and Pakistan to freeze and ultimately eliminate the nuclear arsenals that both governments have developed in secret.
"The Indians have had a ready nuclear weapon for many years," a senior American official said Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "The BJP might take a position that would edge up closer to declaring that they have nuclear weapons."
India's nuclear program dates from 1974, when it exploded what it described as a "peaceful" nuclear device in the Rajasthan Desert. According to recent Western intelligence estimates, India has stockpiled about 100 nuclear warheads and can rapidly assemble more.