Pakistan rejects fears over its nuclear weapons

Leaked US cables show widespread concern about safety of Pak nuclear weapons.

Updated: Dec 02, 2010, 12:04 PM IST

Islamabad: Pakistan on Wednesday dismissed Western concerns over the security of its nuclear weapons program following the publication of more US State Department cables by anti-secrecy organisation WikiLeaks.

A fresh cache of US diplomatic cables released on Tuesday and Wednesday show widespread concern about the safety of Pakistan`s nuclear weapons with worries stretching from Washington to Riyadh to Moscow.

A senior Pakistani government official familiar with his country`s nuclear weapons program waved off Western handwringing.

"They (the weapons) are secured. That`s it. No matter whatever point of view anybody else has," he said.

A senior official in Pakistan`s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency said the country`s nuclear weapons were "the safest”, and that spent fuel rods in the nuclear reactors were "safe and secure”.

"Your planes have had accidents and lost nuclear bombs at sea," he said. "I think it is the Bible that says: `Physician, heal thyself first`."

Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani`s office, in a statement issued after a meeting with the new US ambassador, Cameron Munter, said the revelations would not "have any effect on the strong, strategic partnership between Pakistan and the USA, as both sides were resolute to address the misperceptions in the interest of long-term cordial bilateral relations”.

WikiLeaks shook the diplomatic world on Monday when it published reports from more than 250,000 confidential cables in partnership with five Western newspapers, including The New York Times and the Guardian in Britain.

The nuclear concerns are wide-ranging.

In December 2009, Vladimir Nazarov, Deputy Secretary of Russia`s National Security Council, shared concerns over Pakistan`s nuclear weapons program with Vann H Van Diepen, the US Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, a cable shows.

"Russia assesses that Islamists are not only seeking power in Pakistan but are also trying to get their hands on nuclear materials," the February 24, 2010 cable said, recounting Nazarov`s concerns.

Noting that there were more than 120,000 people working in Pakistan`s nuclear program in and around the facilities, "Regardless of the clearance process for these people, there is no way to guarantee that all are 100% loyal and reliable."

Nazarov fretted that people with "strict religious beliefs" had been hired to protect the nuclear facilities, giving extremist organisations more opportunities to recruit from within the program.

"Over the last few years extremists have attacked vehicles that carry staff to and from these facilities. Some were killed and a number were abducted and there has been no trace seen of them," he reportedly said.

British concerns

In a September 2009 cable, the British expressed "deep concerns about the safety and security of Pakistan`s nuclear weapons”, and said China could play a role in stabilising Pakistan.

And in November 2007, as former military president General Pervez Musharraf was teetering and Pakistan seemed headed for a meltdown, Saudi Arabia`s ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir, warned US diplomats: "We can either support Musharraf and stability, or we can allow bin Laden to get the bomb."

The latest revelations come on the heels of the initial release by WikiLeaks that detailed US concerns over the failure to remove highly enriched uranium (HEU) from a research reactor in Pakistan. HEU can be used to make atomic bombs.

The United States has been secretly trying to convince Pakistan to allow it to remove the uranium because of fears the nuclear material might be stolen or diverted for use in a nuclear device.

Pakistan refused visits from US experts, according to the cable because "If the local media got word of the fuel removal, `they would certainly portray it as the United States taking Pakistan`s nuclear weapons,`" the former US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, said a Pakistani official told her.

Bureau Report