Powell expresses thanks for nuclear investigation

Monday, February 9, 2004

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed "appreciation" for Pakistan's investigation into nuclear proliferation to Iran, Libya and North Korea in a call to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, an official said Sunday.

Powell will visit Pakistan "shortly," a top government official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The United States has refused to publicly criticize Pakistan for leaks of nuclear secrets to countries included in President Bush's "Axis of Evil." Instead, Washington has praised the investigation.

Musharraf is a key U.S. ally in the war on terror in neighboring Afghanistan and border regions where Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding. The alliance with Washington has drawn strong criticism at home.

In a phone conversation Saturday, Powell "called to convey the United States' appreciation over the results of the investigations and the manner in which they were conducted," Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said.

In response, Masood Khan said Musharraf "reiterated Pakistan's resolve that no such activity will be allowed to take place in the future as Pakistan's nuclear program was under the watch and firm control of the National Command Authority," the body that oversees the country's nuclear assets.

Meanwhile, Pakistan's foreign minister said Sunday that foreign intelligence had years ago passed on information about Khan giving nuclear technology to other countries -- prompting his removal in 2001 as head of the Khan Research Laboratories, the main nuclear lab named after him.

Musharraf took action "because some of our friends' intelligence agencies shared some information with us," Mahmud Kasuri told an international security conference in Munich, Germany. He did not elaborate.

After losing his job at the lab, Khan was appointed as a top government adviser, a post he was fired from last week in the wake of the proliferation scandal.

Pakistan apparently made no moves to further investigate and still publicly denied the allegations of proliferation that had dogged Khan and the country for years. "There was smoke, fire had not yet been discovered," Kasuri said.

Musharraf has strongly denied any official involvement in nuclear weapons proliferation, and said he won't order an independent investigation or allow international inspectors to oversee Pakistan's nuclear program. However, many are skeptical that the technology could have been transferred -- sometimes in military cargo aircraft -- without at least tacit official approval.

The latest probe began in late November after the U.N. nuclear watchdog also revealed evidence about the spread of Pakistani nuclear technology.

Meanwhile, a local newspaper reported Sunday that Pakistan was pressured to launch the investigation after top U.S. officials confronted Musharraf during a visit here in October with evidence detailing Khan's black market contacts.

Pakistan was told by Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard Armitage, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca and U.S. Central Command head Gen. John Abizaid that its relations with Washington and the world would suffer if no action was taken, The News reported.

U.S. intelligence had documented Khan's travels to the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Libya, Iran and North Korea, and had details of meetings with black market figures, documents and bank account information, according to the report.

U.S. officials also mentioned Khan's attempts to sell nuclear secrets to Saddam Hussein and a meeting in Lebanon with a top Syrian government official, the newspaper said. Both countries turned down Khan's help.

Officials declined to comment on the report.

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