Islamabad: Pakistan and the US on Sunday launched a major damage control exercise after a leading magazine reported the two countries were negotiating secret understandings that will allow American troops to provide security to the Pakistani nuclear arsenal in the event of a crisis.
US Ambassador Anne Patterson dismissed the report as "completely false" while Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit described the assertions in the article as "utterly misleading and totally baseless".
The report in New Yorker magazine said the US administration was negotiating "highly sensitive understandings with the Pakistani military" to allow specially trained American units to provide "added security for the Pakistani (nuclear) arsenal in case of a crisis".
The article quoted a consultant at the US Department of Defence as saying that a highly classified military and civil emergency response team was put on alert this summer after receiving a intelligence report that a "Pakistani nuclear component had gone astray".
The team was immediately despatched and reached Dubai before it was learnt the report was a false alarm. In a rare statement, Ambassador Patterson said: "The US has no intention to seize Pakistani nuclear weapons or material. Pakistan is a key ally in our common effort to fight violent extremists and foster regional security".
She said they work "cooperatively on a wide range of security assistance initiatives, including significant efforts focused on strengthening counter-insurgency capacities to foster stability".
"The US has confidence in Pakistan’s ability to protect its nuclear programmes and materials, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during her recent visit to Pakistan," American envoy Patterson underlined. Foreign Office spokesman Basit said Seymour Hersh, the author of the article, had betrayed "his well-known anti-Pakistan bias by making several false and highly irresponsible claims by quoting anonymous and unverifiable sources".
The article was "nothing more than a concoction to tarnish the image of Pakistan and create misgivings among its people".
Pakistan’s strategic assets are "completely safe and secure", Basit said, adding "The multi-layered custodial controls, which have been developed indigenously, are as foolproof and effective as in any other nuclear weapon state".
Islamabad does not need any foreign assistance to safeguard its atomic weapons, he said, adding "Nor will Pakistan, as a sovereign state, ever allow any country to have direct or indirect access to its nuclear and strategic facilities".
"Any suggestion to this effect is simply preposterous," he noted, adding "Our second-to-none professional armed forces are fully capable to take care of our nuclear arsenal."
Basit also said that "no talks have ever taken place on the issue of the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal with US officials". The US too had "repeatedly expressed its full confidence in our custodial controls," he added.