No direct access to A.Q. Khan, Pakistan tells US (Lead, changing dateline)

June 27th, 2008 - 5:53 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf
By Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, June 27 (IANS) Pakistan has rejected the demand of US lawmakers for direct access to nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, saying it alone can probe into allegations that he proliferated the country’s nuclear secrets. “We have made it clear, at every level, that no outside authority can interview Dr. Khan,” a senior official of the foreign office told IANS.

He said the issue had been raging for almost four years and “we have been saying that only Pakistani officials can question (Khan) and no one else can be allowed”.

Four key US lawmakers Thursday asked the Bush administration to seek direct access to Khan to get to the bottom of his infamous nuclear black market.

“It is in the interest of the United States, Pakistan, and indeed the rest of the world, that the full actions of A. Q. Khan become known so that we can best deal with the ramifications,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Another official of the interior ministry said Khan was under “protective custody” and it was wrong to say that he was under house arrest.

“There can be several reasons for his custody… we don’t want to put his life in danger,” said the official replying to a question about US lawmakers demand that Khan should remain under house arrest.

Khan, who mentored Pakistan’s nuclear programme, had, in January 2004 confessed to having proliferated the country’s secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

On February 5, 2004, President Pervez Musharraf announced he had pardoned Khan, who is widely seen as a national hero.

Khan, who was seen in public for the first time in four years in May, said the confession had been handed to him by authorities and he was forced to read it on national television in the “best interest of the nation”.

In an interview to IANS last month, Khan said the Pakistani government and Musharraf had made him a “scapegoat” in the “national interest.” He denied ever travelling to Iran or Libya and claimed that North Korea’s nuclear programme was well advanced at the time of his visit.

In 2000, the US accused Pakistan of providing nuclear weapons’ technology to North Korea in exchange for ballistic missile technology. A year later, the Pakistani government announced it had dismissed Khan as the head of Khan Research Laboratories, a move that drew strong criticism from religious and nationalist forces.

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