Pakistan on Tuesday strongly denied a newspaper report that its scientists were the source of high-tech centrifuge design technology that allowed Libya to make progress in its nuclear program, the latest in a series of allegations linking this U.S. ally’s nuclear program to Washington’s bitterest enemies.
The newspaper said the technology transfer to Libya took place after a pledge by Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks that he would rein in his nuclear scientists in an effort to keep their nuclear-know how from falling into the hands of rogue regimes or terrorists.
There’s no evidence the Pakistani government knew its scientists were selling information, but the alleged technology transfers raised doubts about Musharraf’s ability to make good on his promise, the Times said.
Pakistan denies allegation
“This is total madness. The report is absolutely false, and there is no truth in it,” Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told The Associated Press, in reference to a front-page article in Tuesday’s New York Times newspaper datelined out of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
A senior official at Pakistan’s Atomic Energy Commission, speaking to AP on condition of anonymity, also denied any government involvement in any nuclear transfer, but he stopped short of rejecting the charge outright.
“The government of Pakistan was not behind any move aimed at transferring nuclear knowledge or technology or any other thing to any other country,” he said. But, “Pakistan should not be blamed for any individual’s wrongful act.”
“We do not know who has been helping Iran, North Korea or Libya,” he said.
Centrifuges can be used to enrich uranium for use in a nuclear device. Hundreds of centrifuges are necessary to make enough to construct a nuclear weapon, and each requires high-precision tubing that is extremely difficult to produce.
Reaction from Washington
In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he didn’t have enough information to comment extensively on the charges of whether Pakistani scientists shared nuclear technology, saying, “We will be examining all of this.”
Powell said the Libyan government was being “very forthcoming” just weeks after Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi pledged to give up nuclear weapons development.
“The next step is to make sure we have a clear understanding of what Libya possesses, make sure it matches up with what we think they possess and what they tell us they possess,” Powell said, adding that the United States would work with the U.N. nuclear agency and other experts.
Latest in series of accusations
The latest allegations follow an embarrassing admission in December by Pakistan’s government that it was questioning a number of its nuclear scientists on suspicion that “ambition and greed” may have led them to sell their knowledge to Iran. Islamabad vehemently denied government involvement in the plot, and said any leaks were limited to Iran.
But it said it had called in the father of its nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, to discuss the investigation. Pakistani officials say he himself is not a suspect, and Khan was seen Tuesday sitting with other dignitaries at a convention center where Pakistan is hosting the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, an important summit of regional leaders.
The Iran link was only disclosed after Tehran admitted the Pakistan link when they agreed to come clean about their nuclear program. Libya agreed in December to scrap its nuclear program and open itself to full inspections.
A diplomat with knowledge of the Iran investigation recently told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that U.S. intelligence also had “pretty convincing” evidence of a link between Pakistan and North Korea’s weapons program, something Islamabad denies.
Ahmed, the information minister, hinted the allegations were part of a smear campaign against his country, the only Islamic nation that possesses nuclear capability.
“Pakistan’s program is under tight control and in safe hands,” he said. “People keep publishing this kind of trash. Let me again say that Pakistan is a responsible state and Pakistan has never proliferated.”
Pakistan, has long been suspected of proliferation during its 30-year odyssey to build nuclear weapons as a deterrent against nuclear rival India. The two nations tested their first nuclear weapons in 1998.