A Reporter At Large: The Unknown

In April of 1998, President Clinton sent his United Nations Ambassador, Bill Richardson, to South Asia. Richardson's stops included New Delhi, Islamabad, and, most unusually, Kabul, where he held the first (and, as it turned out, the last) Cabinet-level negotiations between the United States and the Taliban leaders of Afghanistan. Richardson, who is now the governor of New Mexico, is an effective diplomat. (He returned to international diplomacy briefly last month, when he met with two North Korean envoys in Santa Fe.) He is irreverent, and he is not timid, and his trip might have been a diplomatic success if it had not been an intelligence failure.

During the stop in New Delhi, Richardson met with officials of the new Hindu-nationalist government of the Bharatiya Janata Party. In one encounter, Richardson asked the defense minister, George Fernandes, if his country planned to explode any of its nuclear weapons. The Indians had not tested their bomb since 1974, but in early 1998 the newspapers in New Delhi-and in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital-were filled with speculation about the new government's intentions. The B.J.P. had stated in its election platform that it would "not be dictated to by anybody in matters of security and in the exercise of the nuclear option."
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