A senior State Department official says Pakistan has given the United States assurances that nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan - released from five years of house arrest last week for selling nuclear secrets - will no longer pose a proliferation risk. U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke, now in Islamabad, is expected to raise the issue with Pakistani leaders.
The State Department, alarmed over last week's court-ordered released of A.Q. Khan, says Pakistani authorities have provided assurances that he will be barred from further proliferation activity and the United States intends to make sure that those promises are kept.
Khan, revered in Pakistan as the father of the country's nuclear program, was put under house arrest in 2003 after admitting he had sold nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea. In a surprise move last Friday, the Islamabad High Court said he was not involved in any criminal activity and ruled his detention unlawful.
The United States, which had helped compile the evidence that led to his detention, complained immediately, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton saying she was very much concerned about the release and a spokesman insisting Khan remained a serious proliferation risk.
A senior State Department official who spoke to reporters said U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson met senior Pakistani officials Sunday in Islamabad and they outlined steps being taken to assure that Khan is not able to re-establish his proliferation network or share nuclear information outside of Pakistan.
The official gave no details of the restrictions but the Washington Post quoted Pakistani officials as saying Khan's telephone calls, visitors and activities will be monitored and that he will be barred from traveling outside the country.
Asked if the United States is satisfied with the assurances, the official said the commitments are fine at face value, but he said the United States "wants to do better than that and make sure that they live up to their words."
Earlier, State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood said the Obama administration remains very concerned with the Pakistani court decision and will continue to discuss the matter with Islamabad officials.
"A.Q. Khan's track record has been one of great concern to us and a number of other countries around the world," he said. "And we are going to do what we can to try to make sure that the types of kind of activities that have been undertaken in the past do not continue. And we will be in touch, as I said, we are in a dialogue with the Pakistani government about A.Q. Khan, and we remain concerned about the potential that he poses for further proliferation."
The senior official said U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke, who arrived Monday in Islamabad on his first trip to the region, would likely raise the A.Q. Khan case with senior Pakistani officials.
Holbrooke, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is in the area to discuss the Afghan conflict as part of the Obama administration's policy review on Afghanistan. But the State Department has said he is empowered to discuss the entire range of issues on the U.S.-Pakistani agenda.