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Pakistani Nuclear Scientist Asks Forgiveness for Technology Sharing - 2004-02-04

Pakistan's top scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, who is known as the father of the country's nuclear bomb, has admitted proliferating nuclear technology and has begged for his nation's forgiveness in a dramatic address on state-run television.

Mr. Qadeer Khan's public confession followed a meeting with President Pervez Musharraf, in which officials say the Pakistani scientist asked for clemency for illegally exporting nuclear technology to other countries.

"My dear brothers and sisters, I have chosen to appear before you to offer my deepest regrets and unqualified apologies to a traumatized nation," he said.

Mr. Khan said the government's investigation into the alleged transfer of nuclear technology to Libya, Iran, and North Korea has established that these activities were initiated at his behest. He absolved the government of any responsibility.

"I also wish to clarify that there was never ever any kind of authorization for these activities by the government," stressed Mr. Khan. "I take full responsibility for my actions, and seek your pardon. I give an assurance that such activities will never take place in the future."

The government says the National Command Authority headed by the Pakistani president met late Wednesday to consider whether to pardon Mr. Qadeer Khan. Officials said the Authority has forwarded the case to the Federal cabinet which will meet on Thursday to make a final decision. The Bush administration said Wednesday it was up to Pakistan to decide whether to prosecute the scientist. Asked about the scandal, spokesman Scott McClellan said the Bush administration appreciates Pakistan's efforts to deal with what he described as a "serious concern."

Many in Pakistan believe that Mr. Qadeer Khan could not have sold nuclear secrets and sent technology abroad, without the knowledge of top military officials.

Pakistan began questioning nearly a dozen nuclear scientists and security officials, after the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency warned the country in November of possible nuclear leaks. They are all associated with the country's uranium enrichment facility which Mr. Qadeer Khan headed for 25 years. Five scientists and officials are still detained.

Opposition parties and religious groups in the parliament have been condemning the government's investigation against national heroes as a consequence of pressure from the United States. They maintain Mr. Qadeer Khan has been treated as a scapegoat.

The Pakistani scientist is reported to have said he was acting on the indirect instructions of two former military chiefs. The government says the officers were questioned, but were not found guilty.