ISLAMABAD // Diplomatic cables released on Sunday by WikiLeaks have highlighted how tensions over Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme continue to afflict its relationship with the United States.
The leaked State Department communications showed that the US has sought since 2007 to persuade Pakistan to allow it to evacuate a stockpile of supposedly weapons-grade nuclear fuel.
The documents linked the US effort to fears that highly-enriched uranium stored in an experimental Pakistani nuclear reactor on the outskirts of Islamabad might fall into the hands of terrorists.
Cables sent by the US Embassy in Islamabad spoke of "grave fears in Washington and London over the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme" after the outbreak of a militant insurgency in 2007.
The documents leaked by WikiLeaks included a report from the US ambassador, Anne Patterson, in May 2009 that Pakistan had refused to schedule a visit by American nuclear technicians.
She quoted an unnamed Pakistani official as saying: "if the local media got word of the fuel removal, they certainly would portray it as the US taking Pakistan's nuclear weapons."
The Pakistani government on Monday acknowledged that Pakistan had "plainly refused" to transfer the fuel from the reactor, installed in the 1960s by the US.
In a statement posted on the foreign office's website, it said the US diplomatic cable's suggestion that the Islamabad reactor was producing highly-enriched uranium was "completely incorrect".
Farhatullah Baber, the spokesman for the president, Asif Ali Zardari, said on Sunday that the disclosures would have no affect on relations.
The release of the leaked communications coincided with remarks made by "a top military official", at a background briefing to the local media on Sunday.
Among complaints that "the people of Pakistan" have against the US is that the "real aim of US strategy is to de-nuclearise [sic] Pakistan", he was reported as saying by Dawn, a leading English-language newspaper. Journalists who attended the briefing confided that the official was Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani, Pakistan's army chief.
Pakistani analysts said the US's long-stated desire was to ultimately persuade Pakistan and India to abandon nuclear weapons, to avert the threat of nuclear war between them, and this would continue to drag on relations with Islamabad.
Pakistan views its nuclear arsenal as key to countering India's massive conventional military superiority, and views US pressure with hostility.
The New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, published a report earlier this month that advised the US government not to aggressively pursue security assistance to Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme in case it would "reinforce Pakistani fears that such assistance is a 'Trojan horse' intended to compromise the security of Pakistan's arsenal," Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on nuclear non-proliferation in Asia, wrote in the report.
The US had offered Pakistan state-of-the-art command and control technology after it and India conducted tit-for-tat nuclear weapons tests in May 1998, US diplomatic sources previously told The National.
The US offer of assistance was turned down in 1998, but US technicians were allowed to draw up an inventory of Pakistan's nuclear weapons in 2002, according to several reports by US security analysts.
The access was allowed in return for an American diplomatic role in persuading India to scale back a massive build-up of its forces along the Pakistani border, after an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001 by Pakistani Islamist militants, the analysts have said.
However, the US has not been allowed access since then and has no accurate estimate of the present size of the nuclear arsenal.