Pervez Musharraf oversaw the shipment of key nuclear components in 2000, the retired scientist had claimed.
Pakistan ignores Khan's nuclear claims
ISLAMABAD // The Pakistan foreign ministry insisted today that its nuclear proliferation case was closed, a day after the disgraced architect of its atomic program claimed the army under President Pervez Musharraf helped spread the technology. Abdul Qadeer Khan said yesterday that Pakistan's army supervised a 2000 shipment of used P-1 centrifuges to North Korea.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Dr Khan said centrifuges - uranium enrichment equipment - were sent from Pakistan in a North Korean plane that was loaded under the supervision of Pakistani security officials. He said the army had "complete knowledge" of the shipment of used P-1 centrifuges to North Korea and that it must have been sent with the consent of President Musharraf, the then-army chief who took power in a 1999 coup.
"It was a North Korean plane, and the army had complete knowledge about it and the equipment," Dr Khan said. "It must have gone with his [Musharraf's] consent." The comments caused a stir in Pakistani media, and newspapers but Mohammad Sadiq, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, offered only a limited comment. He said: "The nuclear proliferation issue is a closed case. We do not think that a debate is required on it." Mr Musharraf's spokesman, Rashid Qureshi, rejected Khan's claims. "I can say with full confidence that it is all lies and false statements," he said. In a speech yesterday, Mr Musharraf himself made no mention of Dr Khan's allegations, but said he would not quit the presidency - as political opponents have been demanding - as he still had a valuable role to play.
After his 2004 confession, Dr Khan was pardoned by President Musharraf but he has effectively been kept under house arrest at his spacious villa in Islamabad. Since a new civilian government took power in February, eclipsing Mr Musharraf, the scientist has increasingly spoken out in the media. However, previously he has not implicated anyone or explicitly said the army was aware of nuclear shipments.
Asked why he had taken sole responsibility for the nuclear proliferation, Dr Khan said he had been persuaded that it was in the national interest by friends. He added that in return he had been promised complete freedom, but "those promises were not honoured". In his autobiography, 'In the Line of Fire', Mr Musharraf says in 1999, a year after becoming army chief, he became suspicious of Dr Khan and questioned him over reports that North Korean nuclear experts had arrived at his laboratories for secret briefings on centrifuges.
According to Mr Musharraf, Dr Khan denied it. The president recounted authorising a raid on a charter aircraft going to North Korea for conventional missiles after receiving reports it would be carrying some "irregular" cargo on Dr Khan's behalf. Dr Khan's people were tipped off before the raid and never loaded the cargo, Mr Musharraf wrote. It was not clear if he was referring to the same shipment as Dr Khan.