- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 4, 2004

From combined dispatches

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Top Pakistani scientist and national hero Abdul Qadeer Khan made a dramatic personal apology yesterday for leaking atomic secrets, the latest twist in a proliferation scandal stretching from Libya to North Korea.

In a somber address on state television, Mr. Khan, revered at home as the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, absolved the government and fellow scientists of any blame in an apparent bid by all concerned to draw a line under the damaging affair.

The speech followed days of negotiations with the government leading to an understanding that an apology would help him avoid a messy public prosecution, intelligence officials said.

Commentators said his confession smacked of a coverup, possibly part of a wider agreement to spare the powerful military unwanted scrutiny in a trial and allow President Pervez Musharraf to avoid pressure from Islamists and nationalists.

“My dear brothers and sisters, I have chosen to appear before you to offer my deepest regrets and unqualified apologies,” Mr. Khan said on state-run Pakistan television.

“There was never, ever any kind of authorization for these activities by the government. I take full responsibility for my actions and seek your pardon,” the silver-haired 69-year-old scientist added, speaking in English.

Western diplomats and many Pakistanis believe Mr. Khan could not have sold nuclear secrets and sent technology for enriching uranium abroad without the knowledge of top military officials.

Earlier, Mr. Khan met with Gen. Musharraf at the president’s Rawalpindi residence, where he is reported to have pleaded for clemency.

The National Command Authority, which oversees Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and is headed by Gen. Musharraf, said yesterday it had referred Mr. Khan’s “mercy petition” to the Cabinet, which is scheduled to meet today.

In Washington the White House said a trial was a matter for Pakistan, but a spokesman said: “We appreciate their efforts to address what is a serious concern, which is proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

The apology by Mr. Khan, at the center of an international storm over Pakistan’s role in nuclear proliferation during the 1980s and 1990s, was greeted with skepticism.

“There is no doubt that it is a coverup,” said Shahid-ur-Rehman, a Pakistani journalist and nuclear expert.

Mr. Khan sought to clear his fellow scientists, who he said acted under his instructions. Four other scientists have been questioned in the probe along with two brigadiers responsible for security at the nuclear facility where he worked.

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