U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says he has told Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf there would be "consequences" if the United States finds that Pakistan is helping North Korea's nuclear program. Pakistan has denied recurring reports of such cooperation with Pyongyang.
Mr. Powell's comments, to reporters traveling with him to Mexico late Monday, appear to reflect a firmer administration stance toward Pakistan in the face of recent media reports that country may have provided uranium enrichment technology to North Korea in return for ballistic missile hardware.
In a transcript of the session released here, Mr. Powell says he has raised the issue repeatedly in recent face-to-face and telephone conversations with President Musharraf telling him that "any sort of contact" between Pakistan and North Korea would "be improper, inappropriate and would have consequences."
The secretary said the Pakistani leader has assured him on more than one occasion that "there are no further contacts," and no contacts of the kind referred to in a New York Times account Sunday, which said U.S. intelligence had observed a Pakistani transport plane picking up missile parts in North Korea as recently as last July.
Mr. Powell said he could not confirm or comment on the points in the Times story but indicated that no formal investigation of the alleged activity was underway.
Under questioning, Mr. Powell declined to specify what the consequences for Pakistan might be if the trade with North Korea was confirmed. But he referred broadly to U.S. non-proliferation laws which require sanctions against countries allowing the transfer of uranium enrichment technology without international safeguards.
Pakistan has run afoul of U.S. non-proliferation law before, notably the 1985 Pressler Amendment which banned U.S. military aid to Pakistan because of what was then a covert Pakistani nuclear weapons program.
Though troubled over the years, American-Pakistani relations warmed considerably in light of President Musharraf's support for the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign after the New York and Washington terror attacks in September 2001.
Bush administration spokesmen have generally downplayed reports of Pakistani aid to North Korea or to Islamic radicals that occurred prior to last year, saying the relationship has fundamentally changed since the September 11 events.
But The New York Times and other reports suggesting that Pakistani assistance to the North Korean nuclear effort has continued in recent months have raised new concerns in Congress and elsewhere about the credibility of the Musharraf government's statements on the issue.
In Islamabad Tuesday, a foreign ministry spokesman quoted by the AFP news agency said Pakistan has a strong export control regime in place and that its record in this regard is "impeccable."
A senior Pakistani defense spokesman, General Rashid Qureshi, said the New York Times accounts of recent trade with North Korea were "baseless" and "malicious."