By Rana Jawad
ISLAMABAD - Pakistan's disgraced nuclear hero Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan provided Iran with centrifuges but the government was in no way involved in the deal, a cabinet minister said Thursday.
"Dr Qadeer has provided Iran with centrifuges but the government of Pakistan had nothing to do with it. He gave them from the black market. Pakistan government was not involved," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid told AFP.
The first public disclosure that Khan gave Iran centrifuges needed to enrich uranium comes as Washington is mounting pressure on the Muslim country to give up its alleged nuclear weapons programme which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes.
Washington believes the technology has enabled Iran to enrich uranium to a level required for making nuclear weapons.
The Pakistani scientist confessed to leaking nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya in February 2004 after a government probe into nuclear proliferation.
The investigation was launched in November 2003 after the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watch-dog, informed Pakistan about the leak.
Khan was later pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf, but he has been living under virtual house arrest in Islamabad.
Pakistani leaders have repeatedly vowed they would not allow any foreign country or agency to interrogate the nuclear scientist, who is credited with making Pakistan a nuclear power.
"We have refused direct interrogations by anyone. The reason is national sensitivity," Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri said last month at the end of a three-day visit to Tokyo.
Rashid said again Thursday Pakistan would not hand Khan over to any other country.
The United States has said Khan was leader of network of black marketeer spreading nuclear technology to different states.
"This is not a new information. We have said earlier that the illicit transfer of information and technology to Iran came through international black market," a foreign ministry official told AFP.
"A network of these black marketeers was identified and dismantled after thorough investigations," said the official, who could not be named.
The official said they came across the information that Khan had provided "outdated" centrifuges to Iran during his interrogation.
As suspected weapons programs around the world come under scrutiny, Pakistan has said its nuclear proliferation probe has not been closed and it would investigate any new information.
Iran is currently engaged in talks with Britain, France and Germany over demands that Tehran give up uranium enrichment.
EU negotiators want Iran to abandon enrichment as an "objective guarantee" that it is not developing nuclear weapons and are offering in return trade, security and technology rewards -- an offer Iran has so far refused.