UPI: The United States has asked Pakistan to provide a detailed list of nuclear equipment a renegade Pakistani scientist is believed to have provided to Iran, diplomatic sources told United Press International.
The sources said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also discussed this issue with Pakistani leaders when she visited Islamabad earlier this week. United Press International
By Anwar Iqbal
UPI South Asian Affairs Analyst
Washington, DC – The United States has asked Pakistan to provide a detailed list of nuclear equipment a renegade Pakistani scientist is believed to have provided to Iran, diplomatic sources told United Press International.
The sources said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also discussed this issue with Pakistani leaders when she visited Islamabad earlier this week.
The Bush administration says that Iran is secretly working on a project to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge and says it wants to use its nuclear program to produce energy.
Last week, President George W. Bush offered to allow Iran to join the World Trade Organization and lift a sanction on buying aircraft spares if it agrees to abandon its nuclear program. But Iran rejected the offer as “too little, too late.”
Iran says that it was developing nuclear technology for nuclear power, not weapons.
“I think this subject came up,” said a State Department official when asked if Rice had discussed the Iranian nuclear issue with the Pakistanis during her visit. “We continue to work very closely with the Pakistanis on investigating all aspects of Abdul Qadeer Khan’s activities,” said the official, referring to the scientist who until recently headed Pakistan’s nuclear program.
In February 2004, Khan confessed to selling nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea and has since been placed under house arrest in Pakistan. His popularity as the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb prevented the Pakistani government from sending him to prison.
Pakistan also has refused to allow international experts to interrogate Khan but Rice told her Senate confirmation hearing in January that U.S. nuclear experts have indirectly interrogated Khan, providing their questions to Pakistani authorities holding the disgraced scientist. “And we are satisfied” with the answers the Pakistanis bring back, she said.
Explaining this point, the State Department official said, “The information Pakistan has provided to us has been important to our own global efforts to dismantle this network.”
Asked why the Pakistanis should provide answers that could embarrass them, the official said, “We believe that Pakistan takes seriously its commitment to dismantle the A.Q. Khan network.”
Diplomatic sources told UPI that originally Rice had not planned to raise this issue during her first visit to Pakistan as secretary of state but the public statements of a Pakistani federal minister forced her to do so.
Days before her visit, Pakistan’s Information Minister Shaik Rashid Ahmed told reporters in Islamabad that Khan also has confessed to selling centrifuge components to Iran. Centrifuges are used for converting uranium into nuclear fuel and can also be used for enriching weapon-grade uranium.
When UPI asked a State Department official how the U.S. administration would respond to an open confession like this, he said: “We are looking into it.”
A senior South Asian diplomat, who asked not to be identified, said by making that statement, the Pakistanis made it “difficult for Rice not to raise the issue during her visit.”
But a Pakistani political commentator and editor of Lahore Daily Times newspaper, Najam Sethi, said, “This was a carefully rehearsed statement and the Americans must have demanded this before Rice’s visit.” Sethi noted that the statement came just after India made a rare admission of U.S. pressure over a $4 billion project to pipe Iranian gas to India through Pakistan.
“I think the Americans are tightening the noose and trying to make sure that Iran is not helped by India or Pakistan in any way, because they know the Iranians are desperate to get projects like the gas pipeline,” Sethi said. “Now is the time to lean on the Iranians and tell their friends to stay at arms length until the nuclear issue is resolved,” he said.
Later, some Indian newspapers reported that the Khan network’s involvement with Iran is much deeper than Pakistan is acknowledging and Rice told the Pakistanis when she met them in Islamabad earlier this week that they would have to come clean on this issue if they want F-16 fighter jets from the United States.
But a State Department official told UPI in Washington that Khan network’s links to Iran “is an issue that stands on its own, and we intend to continue working closely with Pakistan.”
Pakistan wants to buy up to 70 F-16 aircraft from the United States and during her visit Rice discussed the possibility of selling the planes to both India and Pakistan. India has shown some interest in purchasing the planes but is also negotiating with the French, Russians and Swedish to buy their planes. It is not clear if the United States will still sell the planes to Pakistan if India declines to buy them.
While publicly the Americans are not linking their military aid to Pakistan with the Iranian nuclear dispute, reports appearing the Pakistani and Indian newspapers indicate that they are extremely concerned over what Khan might have provided to Iran.
Pakistani intelligence sources told UPI that the Americans believe that Khan has provided much more than “just blueprints” he admitted in his confession last year.
According to these sources, the Americans have told Pakistanis they believe Khan gave Iran “a complete package” for making a nuclear bomb, which includes centrifuges and other materials needed for this purpose.
They want us to retrieve “complete details of this package and send it to Washington,” said a senior Pakistani official who did not want to be identified.