- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 4, 2015

Pakistan’s top diplomat said Thursday his nation is eager for the U.S. and its allies to reach a nuclear accord with Iran so sanctions on Tehran can be lifted, while vehemently denying charges that Islamabad might provide nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia to counter Iranian aggression in the region.

During a roundtable with reporters in Washington, Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said Islamabad remains closely allied with both Riyadh and Tehran, despite rising tension between the two over the prospective nuclear deal and a war raging between Saudi forces and Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

Capping a week of meetings with the Obama administration, Mr. Chaudhry said Pakistan firmly believes that the nuclear deal currently on the table with Iran is the best way to reduce mounting sectarian friction in the region.

Pakistanis are longing for sanctions on Tehran to be lifted so the two nations, which share a roughly 560-mile border, may expand their trade relationship and reopen transport and supply networks through the region.

“Because of the sanctions, we were not able to implement the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline,” he said. “Our country is suffering from an energy crisis. So, here was a source, which was more economical, accessible and doable, but we could not do that because of the sanctions on Iran.”

But Pakistan straddles a difficult geopolitical fault line between Iran and Saudi Arabia, especially since Saudi leaders have expressed wariness that President Obama’s proposed nuclear deal will allow Iran, the region’s leading Shiite Muslim power, to continue enriching uranium and perhaps ultimately obtain nuclear weapons.

SEE ALSO: Petraeus: U.S. ‘probably losing’ right now in fight against Islamic State

Both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are largely Sunni Muslim nations and Mr. Chaudhry stressed on Thursday that Islamabad supports Riyadh’s ongoing fight against Iran-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia has also provided Islamabad with billions in economic aid — a situation that has prompted speculation in U.S. national security circles that Pakistan might ultimately side with the Saudis in a wider conflict with Iran.

Such speculation has soared with the prospect of the Iranian nuclear negotiations, with many wondering whether Pakistan, which is believed to have an arsenal of more than 100 nuclear bombs, might share them with Saudi Arabia as a way to ease Riyadh’s fears of a potentially nuclear-armed Iran.

But Mr. Chaudhry dismissed such speculation Thursday, asserting that there is “absolutely no truth” to it. He stressed that any rumors about Islamabad possibly transferring nuclear weapons or technology to any other nation — including Saudi Arabia — are simply “unfounded and baseless.”

Pakistan is not talking to Saudi Arabia on nuclear issues, period,” he said.

But American intelligence sources have long highlighted the threat of nuclear weapons technology leaking out of Pakistan, which has struggled for decades in the face of rising domestic Islamic extremism, as well as tension between the civilian and military arms of the government.

A.Q. Khan, considered the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, spent much of the late 1990s attempting to sell Islamabad’s advanced nuclear technologies to some of the world’s least trusted governments — including Iran, Libya and North Korea.

Mr. Chaudhry argued Thursday that Pakistan has significantly ramped up security around its nuclear program since then. He asserted that Islamabad has taken great pains to comply with U.N. and U.S.-backed export controls on nuclear material and technology, and suggested that Pakistan’s program is solely focused on countering threats posed by longtime rival India. Separately, the foreign secretary expressed gratitude for Washington’s support of the Pakistani military’s year-old campaign to rout Islamic militants from the largely lawless tribal areas along its border with Afghanistan.

Some 193,000 Pakistan forces are now deployed in the counterterrorism operation, which for years had been dominated by U.S. drone strikes against al Qaeda targets in the region. Collateral damage from the drones had triggered mounting anti-U.S. outrage in Pakistan.

Mr. Chaudhry said the number of drone strikes “has come down” over the past year, but remain a source of bilateral tension.

“We have our view and the U.S. is aware of our view,” he said.



Click to Read More

Click to Hide