Pakistan offers global nuclear fuel services again

By Louis Charbonneau

WASHINGTON (BestGrowthStock) – Pakistan, the country of the disgraced nuclear scientist who provided Iran, Libya and North Korea with uranium enrichment technology, is once again offering its atomic fuel services to the world.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani made the public offer in a statement of his country’s commitments presented at U.S. President Barack Obama’s two-day summit on nuclear security. The written statement was distributed on Tuesday.

“As a country with advanced fuel capability, Pakistan is in a position to provide nuclear fuel cycle services under IAEA (U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards, and to participate in any non-discriminatory nuclear fuel cycle assurance mechanism,” Gilani’s statement said.

In 2004, Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan admitted to selling Iran, North Korea and Libya nuclear enrichment technology that can be used to produce fuel for civilian reactors or atomic weapons. Khan’s movements have been curtailed since his public confession.

IAEA officials and analysts say that Khan’s illicit network, which specialized in helping countries skirt international sanctions, created the greatest nuclear proliferation crisis of the atomic age.

Gilani did not refer by name to Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and considered a national hero by many Pakistanis. But he said that Pakistan “is strongly committed to nuclear security.”

He added that Pakistan “would continue to refine and modernize its technical and human resources and mechanisms on safety and security of nuclear weapons, nuclear materials, facilities and assets.”

“Pakistan has maintained the highest standards for non-proliferation,” he added. “When problems surfaced we addressed them definitively and kept the international community informed.”

INDIA WORRIED

Pakistan has denied that the government knew anything about Khan’s activities. But Western diplomats and intelligence officials say that they believe some members of Pakistan’s government and military were aware of Khan’s network.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan, like India, never signed the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It has some 80 atomic bombs and fissile material for up to 150 more, experts say.

A new report commissioned from Harvard University professor Matthew Bunn by the U.S.-based Nuclear Threat Initiative said that the highest risks of nuclear theft today were in Pakistan and Russia.

Pakistan’s heavily guarded nuclear stockpile “faces immense threats, both from insiders who may be corrupt or sympathetic to terrorists and from large attacks by outsiders,” it said, adding that both al Qaeda and the Taliban posed a threat.

Bunn said militants in Pakistan’s insurgency have proven capable of attacking military and intelligence installations, raising concerns about the safety of the country’s nuclear facilities and arsenal.

Gilani told delegates there was nothing to worry about.

“Today a robust command and control system is in place, which protects our strategic assets against theft, diversion, and accidental or unauthorized use,” he said.

Pakistan’s nuclear-armed neighbor and regional rival India made clear that it still had concerns about the potential proliferation threat Pakistan might pose.

“Clandestine proliferation networks have flourished and led to insecurity for all, including and especially for India,” Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in his speech.

“There should be zero tolerance for individuals and groups which engage in illegal trafficking in nuclear items,” Singh said. He did not mention Pakistan or Khan by name.

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(Additional reporting by Paul Eckert; Editing by Eric Walsh)

Pakistan offers global nuclear fuel services again