Washington: Despite a persistent anxiety over its nuclear programme, the Carter administration failed miserably in efforts to pressurise Pakistan away from fuel enrichment and officials were left "scratching their heads" on how to tackle the problem, newly declassified documents have shown.
The recently declassified US government documents from the Jimmy Carter administration, published on the Internet on Tuesday by the National Security Archive shed light on the critical period in the late 1970s when US first became aware of Pakistan`s nuclear intentions.
The documents show that Pakistani nuclear weapons programme had been a source of anxiety for American policymakers ever since the late 1970s when Washington discovered that metallurgist A Q Khan had stolen blueprints for a gas centrifuge uranium enrichment facility.
The publication of declassified documents comes at a time when WikiLeaks cables reveal the tensions between the US and Pakistan on key nuclear issues, including the security of Pakistan`s nuclear weapons arsenal and the disposal of a stockpile of weapons-grade, highly-enriched uranium.
Analysing the series documents of late 1970s, the National Security Archive said the then Carter administration helped prevent a deal that would have given Pakistan a plutonium production capability, but discovered that it could not do much to prevent that country from producing nuclear weapons fuel with the "dual use" technology that the Khan network was acquiring.
Senior US officials concluded that prospects were "poor" for stopping the Pakistani nuclear programme, within months arms controller were "scratching their heads" over how to tackle the problem.
The declassified documents disclose the US government`s complex but unsuccessful efforts to convince Pakistan to turn off the gas centrifuge project.
Besides exerting direct pressure on military dictator General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, Washington lobbied key allies and China to pressure Islamabad, but also to cooperate by halting the sale of sensitive technology to Pakistan.
While Washington tried combinations of diplomatic pressure and blandishment to try to dissuade the Pakistanis, it met with strong resistance from Pakistani officials who believed that the country had an "unfettered right to do what it wishes".
By January 1979, US intelligence had estimated that Pakistan was reaching the point where it "may soon acquire all the essential components" for a gas centrifuge plant.
Also in January 1979, US intelligence pushed forward the estimate for a Pakistani bomb to 1982, for a "single device" (plutonium), and to 1983 for the test of a weapon using highly-enriched uranium [HEU], although 1984 was "more likely".