Washington: Pakistan`s determination to add considerably to its nuclear arsenal - mostly to deter India - has become yet another irritant in its often testy relationship with Washington, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
A day after the Washington Post, citing non-government analysts, said Pakistan`s nuclear arsenal now numbered more than 100 deployed weapons, the Times said new American intelligence assessments have concluded that Pakistan has steadily expanded its nuclear arsenal since President Barack Obama came to office.
Islamabad is also "building the capability to surge ahead in the production of nuclear-weapons material, putting it on a path to overtake Britain as the world`s fifth largest nuclear weapons power".
For the Obama administration, the assessment poses a direct challenge to a central element of the President`s national security strategy, the reduction of nuclear stockpiles around the world, the Times said.
Citing officials and outsiders familiar with the American assessments, the Times said the most recent estimates suggest that the number of deployed weapons by Pakistan now ranges from the mid-90s to more than 110.
When Obama came to office, his aides were told that the arsenal "was in the mid-to-high 70s", it said citing one official who had been briefed at the time, though estimates ranged from 60 to 90.
The Times said in interviews over the past three weeks, government officials from several countries, including India, which has an interest in raising the alarm about Pakistani capability, provided glimpses of their own estimates.
Almost all, however, said their real concern was not the weapons, but the increase in the production of material, especially plutonium.
Pakistan is completing work on a large new plutonium production reactor, which will greatly increase its ability to produce a powerful new generation of weapons, but also defies Obama`s initiative to halt the production of weapons-grade material, the Times said.
Still, it is unclear how Pakistan is financing the new weapons production, at a time of extraordinary financial stress in the country, it said.
"What does Pakistan need with that many nuclear weapons, especially given the state of the country`s economy," an unnamed foreign official was quoted as saying.
"The country already has more than enough weapons for an effective deterrent against India," he said. "This is just for the generals to say they have more than India."