- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

VIENNA, Austria — The nuclear black market that supplied Iran, Libya and North Korea is small, tight-knit and appears to have been severely hurt by the exposure of its reputed head, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, diplomats and weapons experts said.

They describe the network that circumvented international controls to sell blueprints, hardware and know-how to countries running covert nuclear programs as involving people closely dependent on one another.

Abdul Qadeer Khan, who founded Pakistan’s nuclear program, is emerging as the head of the ring believed to have been the main supplier through middlemen over three continents. A Pakistani government official revealed yesterday that Mr. Khan has acknowledged in a written statement transferring nuclear technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

The revelations came as Pakistan completed its investigation that began in late November, officials said. President Pervez Musharraf is expected to announce the results of the probe in an address to the nation after a period of national holidays ends Thursday.

Mr. Khan was fired Saturday as a scientific adviser to the prime minister.

The sales, during the late 1980s and in the early and mid-1990s, were motivated by “personal greed and ambition,” the official said, and the black market dealings were not authorized by the Pakistani government.

European diplomats also said it appeared unlikely that Gen. Musharraf sanctioned the deals. But with Mr. Khan close to previous governments, senior civilian and military officials before Gen. Musharraf’s takeover in 1999 likely knew of some of the dealings, they said in interviews yesterday and this past week.

Pakistani officials said for the first time yesterday that two former army chiefs have been questioned in the scandal but not implicated.

Gen. Jehangir Karamat and Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, a nationalist and strong advocate of a strategic alliance with Iran during his tenure, denied they had authorized nuclear transfers, the official said.

The diplomats described Mr. Khan as the head of an operation likely involved in supplying both North Korea and Iran with uranium enrichment technology and hardware in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Libya was also a customer, receiving an array of nuclear-related equipment and know-how that included blueprints of a nuclear bomb handed over to U.S. and British intelligence officials late last month, they said.

Middlemen responsible for meshing supply and demand were located in European capitals, Asia and the Middle East, they said, typically working with Iranian, Libyan and North Korean diplomats stationed abroad.

Hundreds of millions of dollars changed hands over the past 15 years, in deals as easy to hide as a floppy disc storing sensitive drawings or as bulky as thousands of centrifuge parts for nuclear enrichment, a key part in building weapons, the diplomats said.

A key beneficiary appears to be Mr. Khan, whose salary as a civil servant cannot account for what Pakistani newspapers say are far-flung real estate holdings and other assets worth millions of dollars.

Mr. Khan, who hasn’t spoken publicly about the charges but has been prevented from leaving Pakistan, has denied during interrogations with investigators that he made the transfers for personal gain.

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