updated 4/13/2004 2:54:22 PM ET 2004-04-13T18:54:22

Pakistan said it was sharing with other countries information divulged by disgraced top scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan but refused comment on a report he had visited a secret underground plant in communist North Korea and seen nuclear devices.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, told interrogators he inspected the weapons briefly during a trip to North Korea five years ago. If true, it would be the first time that any foreigner has reported inspecting an actual North Korean nuclear weapon, the newspaper said.

The report cited unnamed Asian and American officials who have been briefed by the Pakistanis.

Khan, long regarded as a national hero for helping Pakistan obtain a nuclear deterrent against rival India, confessed in February to transferring sensitive technology to North Korea, Iran and Libya.

He received a pardon from Pakistan’s President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally, but remains under house arrest in Islamabad as investigators continue a probe into his illicit nuclear deals.

Questioning Khan’s credibility
Jon Wolfsthal, who served as a U.S. government monitor at North Korea’s main plutonium site in the 1990s, said Washington has believed for more than a decade that North Korea had enough material for one or two bombs.

Khan is not a credible source, however, Wolfsthal said.

“A.Q. Khan is a liar, and he’s doing whatever he feels necessary to protect his own interests and protect the government that has pardoned him,” said Wolfsthal, now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

“One way of doing that is saying, ‘It doesn’t matter what we sold to North Korea because they had weapons already,”’ he said.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said Tuesday that Pakistan had shared information arising from its investigations of Khan to other countries, but he did not elaborate.

“We have investigated scientists. We are in touch with the world,” he told a press conference in Islamabad.

Pakistani officials have previously said they have offered information on the investigation to China, Japan and South Korea, as well as the United States and the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Times said that Pakistan has begun to provide classified briefings to nations within reach of North Korea’s missiles.

U.S. believes N. Korea has bombs
The CIA believes that North Korea already has one or two nuclear bombs, although some U.S. intelligence analysts believe it may have more.

A high-level South Korean official confirmed Tuesday its government had received information linked to the Times report from Pakistan and “related countries.”

“But we are trying to further confirm it as there are many unclear points about its contents and circumstances,” the official said on condition of anonymity in Seoul.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry official, who also did not want to be named, said the government was aware of the report and was cooperating with other countries to gather information about North Korea’s nuclear activities. He declined further comment.

The Times reported that Vice President Dick Cheney was briefed on Khan’s assertions before he left on a trip to Asia over the weekend .

Cheney pressing issue in China
It said Cheney was expected to cite the intelligence to China’s leaders on Tuesday to press the point that six-country talks that have been held in Beijing over disarming North Korea are going too slowly and that the Bush administration may seek stronger action against Pyongyang, including sanctions.

The report said Khan told Pakistani officials that he began dealing with North Korea on the sale of equipment for a uranium-based nuclear weapons program as early as the late 1980s but did not begin major shipments to North Korea until the late 1990s agreed with the United States to a moratorium on its plutonium-based program. North Korea has since renounced that agreement.

Pakistan denies any official involvement in nuclear proliferation, although doubts remain over how top military and government officials remained in the dark for years over Khan’s activities.

Pakistani officials said Saturday they’ve released three men questioned about the nuclear black market led by Khan. Four others — two scientists and two administrators who worked at the same laboratory — are still being held for questioning.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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