US thinks A.Q. Khan out of business, but against freeing him

June 18th, 2008 - 12:43 pm ICT by IANS  

By Arun Kumar
Washington, June 18 (IANS) The United States has reiterated its opposition to freeing disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan even as it thinks that the nuclear black market run by his network is now out of business. “We’ve always expressed our belief that anyone associated with this network should not be free to be able to walk the streets and engage in either continued proliferation activities, or to try and restart anything that might be there,” State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said Tuesday.

“Certainly, that’s always a concern and always something we talk with Pakistani officials about,” he said when asked to comment on new revelations about the A. Q. Khan network and reports that the new Pakistani government may eventually release him from house arrest.

A study by the Institute for Science and International Security has suggested that an international smuggling ring once run by A.Q. Khan may have given Iran - and other nations - blueprints for a miniature nuclear warhead first developed for his country’s weapons programme.

Declining to comment on media reports on the study, Casey said: “The intelligence community can talk to you about what they, you know, know or don’t know in terms of the details of A.Q. Khan’s network.”

“I think the most important thing, though, is that A.Q. Khan’s network is out of business, and that it isn’t in a position to engage in proliferation activities, and that the international community has been working effectively not only to respond to the challenge it poses, but more broadly to deal with non-proliferation concerns.” .

At this point, the official said he didn’t have “anything new to offer in terms of an assessment by the US government about what the network did or didn’t do and/or at what level those kinds of proliferation activities took place”.

“I think the record on that is fairly substantial and fairly clear. I’m not sure whether anything that people have written about recently is a surprise to those that have been working on this for a length of time.”

Asked to comment on reports about easing of restrictions on A.Q. Khan, Casey expressed confidence that the Pakistan government is not engaging in proliferation activities.

“I’m not sure what kinds of - the exact status of his detention is,” he said. “Here’s the bottom line. The United States has confidence that the government of Pakistan is not engaging in proliferation activities.”

“We’ll continue to work with the government of Pakistan, as well as with other governments, to make sure that they are not doing so,” he added.

“Certainly, if we have any concerns that either Khan or any Pakistani citizen is engaged in proliferation activities, we will raise that forcefully and directly with the Government of Pakistan,” Casey said.

The US also expected that the government of Pakistan will continue as it has in the past to be able to work with Washington “to ensure that neither it as a country, as a national government or any of its citizens are taking actions that would, frankly, not be in the interests not only of the United States, but of Pakistan itself”, he said.

Asked to comment on reports that some of the transfers of nuclear material may have taken as recently as 2006, the spokesman said he was not aware of any information that would support that.

“I’m not aware of any information that would indicate that as the director of Central Intelligence, the president and many other officials have said, that this network was active beyond the point at which we knew.”

“Certainly, again, if they believe that there’s anything that is in these press reports that is substantive or that would in any way indicate that Pakistan is being used as a proliferation centre then that would be something that would be immediately and forcefully raised with government officials,” Casey said.

Asked when was the last time the US had raised the issue of A.Q. Khan with Islamabad, the official said he was not aware of any specific conversations that might or might not have taken place with the new government on the subject. “Certainly, it’s a matter of general concern, though.”

The US, he said, has regular conversations with the government of Pakistan about a broad range of issues. “Certainly, proliferation concerns are always something that’s on the agenda with any of our major partners, including Pakistan.”

But he was not aware that anyone in the State Department “has raised any special concerns about the press reporting that’s occurred over the last few weeks”.

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