Tuesday, March 30, 2004

A Pakistani network that covertly sold nuclear goods used government aircraft but the Islamabad government was not involved in the transactions, a senior State Department official told Congress yesterday.

John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control, said the network led by A.Q. Khan sold nuclear material to Iran, North Korea, Libya and other states. The group, which helped rogue states obtain centrifuges used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons, is still being investigated.

“Based on the information we have now, we believe that the proliferation activities that Mister Khan confessed to recently, his activities in Libya, in Iran and North Korea, and perhaps elsewhere, were activities that he was carrying on without the approval of the top levels of the government of Pakistan,” Mr. Bolton said in testimony before the House International Relations Committee. “That is the position that President [Pervez] Musharraf has taken, and we have no evidence to the contrary.”

Mr. Bolton said, however, that officials working for the Pakistani government at the Khan Research Laboratories and probably in the military participated in the network’s covert sales.

The officials “probably enriched themselves just as Khan himself did,” he said.

The activities were carried out independent of state sponsorship or approval and yet the “black market in weapons of mass destruction” was “extraordinary successful,” he said.

Asked by Rep. Gary L. Ackerman, New York Democrat, about reports that Pakistani military aircraft ferried nuclear goods from Pakistan to North Korea, Mr. Bolton said the aircraft may have been operated outside official military control.

“The understanding we have is that Khan Research Laboratories had extraordinary autonomy and quite likely could use military aircraft for purposes that others in the military would not necessarily know the purpose of because of compartmentation of the information,” Mr. Bolton said.

Mr. Bolton said that if information surfaced linking the Pakistani government to the transfers, “we would act on it” and impose sanctions.

Mr. Musharraf fired Mr. Khan, the father of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program, as head of the nuclear laboratory in 2000 and pardoned him last month after he confessed to the nuclear black market extending from Southeast Asia, to the Middle East to Europe.

The pardon is conditional on the scientist halting the nuclear transfers and fully cooperating in revealing the extent of the nuclear proliferation, Mr. Bolton said. “We believe those conditions are currently being met,” he said.

On North Korea, Mr. Bolton said the administration is negotiating with Pyongyang to end its nuclear arms programs, including a plutonium-based bomb program and a covert uranium-based program.

Mr. Bolton also said steps have been taken to cut off North Korea’s funding sources for its nuclear arms program, and its missile programs.

On Iran, Mr. Bolton said scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency, has not led to an end of Tehran’s nuclear arms program.

“The recent discovery of Iran’s development and testing of uranium enrichment centrifuges of an advanced design is a clear indicator that Iran continues its quest for nuclear weapons,” Mr. Bolton said.

Iran’s nuclear and missile programs are “one of the most serious proliferation challenges we face today,” he said, noting that Tehran is engaged in a “massive denial and deception program” designed to fool the world.

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