Video: Nuclear technology for sale

updated 10/12/2006 11:27:52 AM ET 2006-10-12T15:27:52

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf says Pakistan had no link to North Korea's nuclear test, but analysts believe the explosion could force the West to take a closer look at past shady nuclear dealings between the two Asian nations.

The disgraced former head of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, helped kick-start North Korea's nuclear program by delivering uranium enrichment centrifuges, plans and expertise to the secretive communist government during the 1990s.

Pakistan condemned North Korea's reported test Monday and stressed that it was apparently a plutonium bomb and did not use the uranium technology that Khan, now under house arrest after being pardoned by the Pakistani government in 2004, delivered to North Korea through an international nuclear black market network.

Officials said Pakistan has already handed over to the United States and the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency all available information gleaned from Khan during investigations into his nuclear sales.

Musharraf, speaking to reporters in Islamabad late Wednesday, said neither Pakistan nor Khan, who the president accuses of leading the international nuclear black market without government knowledge, had any part in the North Korean test.

"The nuclear test of North Korea is based on plutonium while Pakistan has been following the uranium enrichment route," Musharraf said.

'Keen interest'
But North Korea's test could put Pakistan back in hot water with the United States, which has long had questions over Islamabad's nuclear ties to the North, said Lawrence Scheinman, former assistant director for nonproliferation and regional arms control at the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

"There will be keen interest in knowing just how extensive and intensive the transfer of information from Pakistan to North Korea was in the nuclear field, if only to provide further information on what one might expect in terms of the scope and speed of North Korean weapons development," said Scheinman, now a professor at the Washington D.C.-based Center for Nonproliferation Studies.

Teresita Schaffer, director of the South Asia Program of the Washington D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, believes the U.S. government will use North Korea's actions as an "opportunity" to squeeze more information out of Islamabad.

"The North Korean explosion will make Pakistan's relations with North Korea look even worse than they already did," Schaffer said. "It makes the East Asian security environment a whole lot worse."

However, taking Pakistan to task could backfire against the West as Islamabad's assistance in other sensitive areas, including the U.S.-led war on terror and tempering the raging insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan, is sorely needed.

"The United States and its allies have various policy goals in Pakistan, including counterterrorism and coordination of military operations in Afghanistan," said Christian Le Miere, Janes Foreign Report's Asia-Pacific editor. "I am not sure they would like to put further pressure on Pakistan."

Pakistan: 'Fully transparent'
Khan ran his own nuclear weapons research center, known as Khan Research Laboratories, which received nuclear material from Pakistan's Atomic Energy Commission to carry out his activities.

Ishfaq Ahmed, who lost his job as chairman of the commission when Khan was forced out, doubted Tuesday that Pakistan would be pressured by the United States to reveal more information on Khan's dealings with North Korea.

"Pakistan has been fully transparent and there is no use in looking back," Ahmed, now an adviser to the prime minister, told The Associated Press. "Let's look forward to having a more stable situation in the region and the world."

Musharraf has said that in early 1999, shortly after taking charge of Pakistan's army, he saw the first signs of Khan's suspicious activities, including a deal for Pakistan to buy conventional missiles from North Korea.

In his recently released book, Musharraf wrote that he was given proof of Khan's nuclear black market in 2003 by then CIA Director George Tenet during the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York.

The president wrote that Tenet showed him Pakistan centrifuge drawings developed under Khan, proving that Pakistani nuclear secrets had made it onto the black market.

Khan transferred nearly two dozen P-1 and P-II uranium enrichment centrifuges to North Korea, provided coaching on centrifuge technology and facilitated North Korean "visits to top-secret centrifuge plants," Musharraf wrote.

The revelations, Musharraf said, forced him to investigate Khan's activities and later compel the scientist to apologize on Pakistani TV for his activities. He was never charged over the affair and pardoned because of his high public standing in Pakistan, Musharraf said.

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