- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2004

VIENNA, Austria — U.N. investigators are increasingly certain that Pakistani government leaders had known the country’s top atomic scientist was supplying other nations, particularly North Korea, with nuclear technology and designs, diplomats say.

Although rogue nations were the main customers of the nuclear black market, sales of enriched uranium and warhead drawings have fed international fears that terrorists also could have bought weapons technology or material, the diplomats said.

The investigation has widened beyond looking at Iran, Libya and North Korea — the identified customers of the network led by Abdul Qadeer Khan — said the diplomats, speaking on the condition of anonymity in a series of interviews with the Associated Press.

The diplomats’ assessment comes about halfway through a probe by the International Atomic Energy Agency and Western intelligence services into the Khan network, which is expected to be completed by June.

Despite denials by the Pakistani government, investigators now are certain that some, if not all, of the country’s decision makers were aware of Mr. Khan’s dealings.

“In all cases except Pakistan, we are sure there was no government involvement,” he said. “In Pakistan, it’s hard to believe all this happened under their noses and nobody knew about it.”

Pakistan’s president, Pervez Musharraf, has insisted that his government was not involved.

“The Pakistani government has never and will never proliferate,” he said at a meeting of world leaders in January in Davos, Switzerland.

Much of what was sold were expensive and high-tech uranium-enrichment centrifuge components to Libya and Iran. Such equipment would be useless to terrorists lacking the space, expertise and tens of millions of dollars needed to set up thousands of centrifuges in series and repeatedly recycle isotopes until they were weapons grade.

But the diplomats identified two recent discoveries — traces of highly enriched uranium apparently of Russian origin found in Iran and drawings of a nuclear warhead surrendered by Libya — as representing a potential fast track for terrorists looking to build a weapon.

The uranium, apparently sold not by the Russian government but by individuals in the black market, carried a signature typical of enrichment in the former Soviet Union, the diplomats said.

Although it was short of the 90 percent weapons level, it was enriched enough to be made suitable for a warhead with much less equipment and effort than would be needed with natural uranium.

“We’re talking a couple of dozen centrifuges, as compared to about 1,000,” said one diplomat.

The engineers’ drawings of a nuclear weapon were of Chinese origin. China is widely assumed to have supplied much of the clandestine nuclear technology that Mr. Khan used to establish Pakistan as a nuclear power in 1998.

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