Pakistan to tell U.S. it won’t accept limits on tactical nuclear arms

Pakistan insists smaller weapons would deter a sudden attack by its bigger neighbor India

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Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will tell U.S. President Barack Obama this week that Islamabad will not accept limits on its use of small tactical nuclear weapons, Pakistani officials said on Wednesday.

Pakistan insists smaller weapons would deter a sudden attack by its bigger neighbor India, which is also a nuclear power. But the United States worries tactical weapons may further destabilize an already volatile region because their smaller size makes them more tempting to use in a conventional war.

Sharif and Obama are due to meet at the White House on Thursday. The Obama administration is preparing to sell eight F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan in an attempt to bolster the two countries’ relationship despite Washington’s concerns about Pakistan’s growing nuclear arsenal, according to a U.S. source familiar with the matter.

The aircraft sales, which the U.S. Congress could block, would be a symbolic step given Pakistan’s already large fleet of fighter jets. The sales were first reported by the New York Times.

The U.S. wants Pakistan to commit to not using tactical nuclear weapons but Islamabad wants to keep its options open as a way of deterring a potential Indian attack, said Maria Sultan, head of the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute.

Pakistan says the U.S. is demanding unreasonable limits on its use of nuclear weapons and not offering much in return apart from a hazy promise to consider Pakistan as a recognized recipient of nuclear technology.

“Pakistan’s nuclear programme is ... India-centric. And it exists to make war a non-option ... Tactical nuclear weapons block off this room (for war) completely,” said a Pakistani security official with knowledge of the country’s nuclear program. “No one can dictate what kind of weapons we will make or use.”

Pakistan was working on developing a nuclear submarine, he added. “The goal is a sea-based second strike capability,” he said, referring to a submarine that could carry nuclear warheads and strike in case land-based nuclear weapons were wiped out.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met Sharif on Wednesday but State Department spokesman John Kirby declined to say whether a U.S. call for nuclear restraint was discussed.

Kirby told a regular news briefing Pakistan remained engaged with the international community on nuclear security and added: “We believe that they believe in the importance of nuclear security issues.”

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