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US Welcomes Pakistani Nuclear Probe - 2003-12-22

The United States Monday welcomed the Pakistani government's investigation into whether figures in Pakistan's nuclear program may have provided nuclear-weapons technology to Iran or other countries. The State Department says Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf assured the United States more than a year ago that any such activity had ceased.

Officials here are reluctant to speak about what nuclear-export activity the United States believes Pakistan was engaged in before the Bush administration took office.

But officials at both the State Department and White House Monday said the United States continues to accept at face value an assurance made last year by President Musharraf that Pakistan was no longer involved in such proliferation.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the assurance was conveyed during what he said was a "very specific" conversation between Mr. Musharraf and Secretary of State Colin Powell on the proliferation issue in October 2002.

That telephone talk had followed a flurry of press reports, denied at the time by Pakistan, that that country had been secretly aiding North Korea's nuclear program.

Mr. Boucher said he would not address nuclear cooperation Pakistan may have had with other countries before the Powell-Musharraf discussion, but he said the administration continues to "value and accept" the Pakistani leader's assertion that technology transfers had ceased. "I don't think that we have ever said that we'd not had conversations with Pakistan about the past. We just said that we weren't going to try to speak ourselves about what Pakistan might or might not have done in the past. But in October 2002, we were able to say that President Musharraf had made those assurances to us, and we continue to value those assurances today," he said.

Mr. Boucher said the United States welcomes the Pakistani government's investigation and debriefing of prominent nuclear scientists about alleged technology exports. Those questioned are said to include aides to Abdul Qadeer Khan, who's considered the "father" of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.

The New York Times and Washington Post have reported that information Iran has provided to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA, in recent weeks has strengthened suspicions that Pakistan sold Iran key nuclear secrets, including how to build uranium-enrichment centrifuges.

The State Department declined to address those reports, though Mr. Boucher noted that a November 10 report by IAEA Director-General Mohammed El-Baradei on Iran's nuclear program stated that Tehran had received nuclear assistance from "several external sources."