Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has confirmed that the founder of his country's nuclear weapons program illegally exported centrifuges to North Korea, equipment used to produce fuel for atomic bombs. The statement comes as six-party talks over how to end Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program are underway in Beijing, and analysts say the Pakistani leader's comments could lead to increased pressure in those talks on North Korea.
President Musharraf told The New York Times that the results of the two-year-long interrogation of Abdul Qadeer Khan, who led Pakistan's development of nuclear weapons, have established that Mr. Khan illegally transferred more than a dozen centrifuges to North Korea.
Mr. Khan, who allegedly ran the world's largest proliferation network, admitted in a stunning televised speech last year that he sold nuclear technology to Libya, Iran, North Korea. Mr. Musharraf pardoned him, citing his vital contribution to national security, but Mr. Khan has since been placed under house arrest, and access to him is strictly limited.
President Musharraf says the illegal transfers on their own were not enough to help Pyongyang develop nuclear weapons. But U.S. officials have said North Korea would have been able to copy the design and build its own centrifuges.
Analysts say the Pakistani president's disclosure comes close to confirming U.S. allegations that North Korea was carrying out a secret uranium-enrichment program, which requires centrifuges, in order to build nuclear weapons. Such a program would have been a violation of a deal Pyongyang made with Washington in 1994.
"General Musharraf's statement does not really change the reality that exists. At the moment this statement may have implications for Pakistan-U.S relations, but not on the North Korea questions, because it is recognized that they have the bomb, or they are very close to the bomb," said Hassan Askari, a former head of the political science department at Pakistan's Punjab University. "But the U.S. can use this statement for applying additional pressure on North Korea."
Mr. Askari says President Musharraf's statement may also have a negative impact on Pakistan's quest for Western help in developing civilian nuclear technology to meet the country's growing energy needs.
"When Pakistan goes to the U.S. or to the Western countries for obtaining power plants, then of course this issue will haunt Pakistan," said Askari. "The U.S. can say to the Pakistani government that if these kinds of things (illegal nuclear exports) happen, then how could Pakistan demand civilian nuclear technology?"
Pakistan is a close U.S. ally in the war on terrorism. It has recently requested an agreement with Washington that would match President Bush's offer to help India develop a civilian nuclear power program. But analysts say the United States is more wary of Pakistan's nuclear activities than those of India.