- The Washington Times - Friday, December 3, 2004

President Bush’s meeting with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf at the White House today was supposed to be an informal affair, but recent developments in the region have added new significance to their talks.

Initial reports had said that Gen. Musharraf wanted to stop over while returning home from South America to personally congratulate Mr. Bush on his re-election. Mr. Bush, who last week publicly called Gen. Musharraf “a good friend,” agreed.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan, while announcing the visit earlier this week, described it as “an opportunity for the two presidents to continue discussing the war on terrorism, and their long-term vision for U.S.-Pakistan relations.”

But unfolding events in and around South Asia indicate that the talks may go beyond the “war on terrorism” to include the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.

In a resolution adopted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, Monday, the U.N. nuclear watchdog praised Iran for agreeing to freeze its nuclear research and removed an immediate threat of sanctions against Tehran, which built its program secretly over 18 years.

The IAEA resolution also endorsed an agreement Iran reached with Britain, France and Germany two weeks ago to suspend its nuclear activity, thereby possibly avoiding referral to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions.

Although the Bush administration did not block the IAEA resolution, it criticized the IAEA afterward and said for the first time it is willing to take Iran to the Security Council on its own.

Pakistan now finds itself in a position to prove or discredit Washington’s belief that Iran is secretly trying to build atom bombs.

IAEA inspectors had earlier found traces of enriched uranium on equipment at Iran’s nuclear facilities. Iran claimed the traces were imported inadvertently on components it bought from international proliferators headed by disgraced Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Iran also has reported to the IAEA that the equipment originated in Pakistan, where it was used for enriching uranium before the Khan network sold it to Tehran.

That puts Pakistan in a position of being able to confirm or debunk Iranian claims that the importation was inadvertent.

If Pakistan permitted IAEA inspectors to examine its nuclear facilities, it would show whether the uranium traces found in Iran came from Pakistan or were from material manufactured by Iran itself.

Last week, news reports said IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has informed his organization’s board of directors that Pakistan has agreed to allow “limited inspection” of its nuclear facilities.

Officially, Pakistan denies those reports.

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