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Concerns Remain Over Security of Pakistan's Nuclear Program - 2003-04-03

Pakistan has taken issue with the imposition of U.S. sanctions against a research laboratory accused of weapons proliferation, but there are continuing concerns in the United States that Pakistani nuclear technology could end up in the wrong hands.

Former U.S. government advisor and South Asia expert George Perkovich said Pakistan's nuclear capabilities need as much safeguarding as those of the former Soviet Union, if not more so.

Mr. Perkovich, author of the 1999 security survey "India's Nuclear Bomb," said the Pakistani army has, for the most part, acted responsibly in keeping its nuclear weapons out of dangerous hands. However, he added, that does not necessarily mean that in the long term, Pakistan's technology won't leak out to rogue states or terrorists.

"When you have poor, insufficient management of nuclear assets, nuclear materials," said Mr. Perkovich, "you may not know about it until the damage has been done."

Mr. Perkovich said analysts cannot rule out the possibility of Pakistan providing nuclear research assistance to its purported missile supplier, North Korea, or even to neighboring Iran.

Islamabad, however, has long rejected any accusation that it would aid in the spread of nuclear technology. According to Pakistan's Washington Embassy spokesman Asad Hayauddin, no one has ever presented evidence that Pakistan is a proliferator.

"So far, what you have is zero, I repeat zero, from any source that anything actually came out," said Mr. Hayauddin.

He added that the U.S. decision to apply sanctions to his nation's key weapons research facility, the AQ Khan Nuclear Research Laboratories, is unfair and not based on actual proliferation activities.

The State Department has accused the Khan Laboratories of making a material contribution to another country's weapons-of-mass-destruction program.

That second nation was not publicly identified by U.S. officials but is widely believed to be North Korea, where a state-run firm has also been sanctioned for having transferred missiles or related technology.

Reports from Washington say North Korea has supplied Pakistan with No-Dong missiles. The State Department has not provided details of the alleged transfers.

The State Department acknowledged the sanctions on Pakistan's Khan Laboratories will have little real effect, because the United States has no contracts with the firm.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Kurshid Mahmud Kasuri said Pakistan is disappointed by the sanctions, but that they will not have any effect on the nation's nuclear program or missile research.