Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has confirmed for the first time that his country's former top scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, transferred centrifuges and their designs - the type used to make fuel for nuclear weapons - to North Korea.
President Musharraf says that the country's disgraced scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, provided North Korea with centrifuges and their designs, but he played down the importance such transfers alone could have had in helping Pyongyang develop nuclear weapons.
Pakistani officials have previously confirmed Mr. Khan's proliferation activities, and the scientist himself confessed last year to having transferred nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya. But this is the first time President Musharraf has disclosed the extent of the illegal cooperation between Pyongyang and the founder of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.
In an interview with the Japanese news agency Kyodo, President Musharraf indicates that Mr. Khan helped North Korea only in the enrichment of uranium, an early step in nuclear bomb-making, and was not involved in the other processes required to make a bomb.
"We know that he did pass on centrifuge parts and centrifuges. We know that he passed on their designs," he said. "[But a] nuclear bomb is not made only by centrifuges. There is a process in making a nuclear bomb, and A. Q. Khan does not know how to do it. He is not a nuclear scientist, he is a metallurgist."
President Musharraf says that if the North Koreans have acquired the capability to make nuclear weapons, they must have learned to do so by themselves, "and not from Pakistan."
Enriching uranium is one method of obtaining nuclear weapons fuel. The North Koreans have admitted making bombs by extracting plutonium from nuclear reactor rods, another method, but have denied having a uranium-enrichment program as well.
Mr. Khan last year admitted to operating an international black market network in nuclear weapons technology. President Musharraf has pardoned him, citing his crucial role in Pakistan's national security, but Mr. Khan has since been kept under house arrest in Islamabad.
President Musharraf in the interview once again ruled out the possibility of allowing foreign officials to question Mr. Khan, as part of international efforts to dismantle the nuclear proliferation network. The United States among others has expressed an interest in interrogating him.