Pakistan rapidly adding nuclear arms, US Congress told

May 18th, 2009 - 11:26 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 18 (IANS) Pakistan is rapidly adding to its nuclear arsenal even while racked by insurgency, members of US Congress have been told in confidential briefings, according to the New York Times.
This has raised questions on Capitol Hill about whether billions of dollars in proposed military aid might be diverted to Pakistan’s nuclear programme, the influential US daily reported Monday.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed the assessment of the expanded arsenal in a one-word answer to a question on Thursday in the midst of lengthy Senate testimony.

Sitting beside Defence Secretary Robert M. Gates, he was asked whether he had seen evidence of an increase in the size of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal.

“Yes,” he said quickly, adding nothing, clearly cognisant of Pakistan’s sensitivity to any discussion about the country’s nuclear strategy or security.

Inside the Obama administration, Pakistan’s drive to spend heavily on new nuclear arms has been a source of growing concern, the Times said citing unnanmed officials.

This was so because the country is producing more nuclear material at a time when Washington is increasingly focused on trying to assure the security of an arsenal of 80 to 100 weapons so that they will never fall into the hands of Islamic insurgents,

The administration’s effort is complicated by the fact that Pakistan is producing an unknown amount of new bomb-grade uranium and, once a series of new reactors is completed, bomb-grade plutonium for a new generation of weapons, the Times said.

Obama administration officials cited by the daily said that they had communicated to Congress that their intent was to assure that military aid to Pakistan was directed toward counter-terrorism and not diverted.

But Admiral Mullen’s public confirmation that the arsenal is increasing - a view widely held in both classified and unclassified analyses - seems certain to aggravate Congress’s discomfort.

Whether that discomfort might result in a delay or reduction in aid to Pakistan is unclear.

Senior members of Congress were already pressing for assurances from Pakistan that the American military assistance would be used to fight the insurgency, and not be siphoned off for more conventional military programmes to counter Pakistan’s historic adversary, India, the Times noted.

Official confirmation that Pakistan has accelerated expansion of its nuclear programme only added to the consternation of those in Congress who were already voicing serious concern about the security of those warheads, it said.

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