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Breakup of Nuclear Proliferation Network 'a Major Achievement,' says Powell - 2004-03-18

Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Kuwait after a three-nation South Asian tour, capped by talks Thursday with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on the A.Q. Khan nuclear proliferation network and military operations on the Pakistani-Afghan border.

Mr. Powell says the break-up of the network that sold nuclear secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea is a major achievement even if Abdul Qadeer Khan, who has been pardoned by President Musharaff, never faces any other charges or punishment.

In a talk with reporters enroute from Islamabad to Kuwait, Mr. Powell rejected the notion that the Bush administration had taken a lenient approach on the proliferation scandal in the interest of retaining Pakistani support in the war on terrorism and other issues.

He said in their talks Thursday, President Musharraf again assured him the United States will get full access to information Pakistan has about the affair, and said the Islamabad government has been a serious partner thus far in halting the proliferation ring.

"What we were interested in was getting the network stopped and pulled up. We've done that," he said. "Now we're going to look for all parts of it. But the one thing I know is there are no more centrifuges, or designs or other components of nuclear weapons flowing out of the A.Q. Khan network. Now, I think that is a major achievement."

Mr. Powell had said in advance of the meeting that he would press for information about involvement with the nuclear exports by past or current Pakistani governments . He said he received new information from Mr. Musharraf but would consult with other officials in Washington before commenting.

He also said President Musharraf briefed him on the ongoing offensive by Pakistani forces against al-Qaida and Taleban elements along the Pakistani-Afghan border, action he said had intensified after clashes earlier this week that killed dozens of fighters on both sides.

The operation has drawn criticism from Islamic factions in Pakistan opposed to Mr. Musharraf, but Mr. Powell said the action is in Pakistan's strategic interests.

"The people they are going after are terrorists. They're people who mean no good to Afghanistan and if left alone, they will try to destabilize Afghanistan again, and that's just not in Pakistan's interest," he said. "And they're essentially trying to impose their kind of sovereignty over sections of Pakistan. So this is a direct challenge to the leadership of Pakistan, and they're going after these guys."

Mr. Powell said the decision he announced in Islamabad designating Pakistan a major non-NATO U.S. ally is aimed at demonstrating to Pakistan that the two countries are "good long-term partners," and that the Bush administration wants to have the same relationship with India.