ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, March 10 -- Pakistan admitted Thursday that the scientist who headed its nuclear program sold Iran a crucial component needed to enrich uranium and produce nuclear material for warheads.
The admission by Information Minister Rashid Ahmed was Pakistan's first public acknowledgment that Abdul Qadeer Khan provided Iran's secret nuclear program with completed centrifuges. But Ahmed said Pakistan knew nothing of his activities when they occurred and insisted that Khan would not be turned over to another country for prosecution.
Khan "gave some centrifuges to Iran," Ahmed said in a telephone interview. "He helped Iran in his personal capacity, and the Pakistan government had nothing to do with it."
Khan, a metallurgist, is widely considered the father of Pakistan's program to produce atomic bombs to counter India's nuclear arsenal. Last year Khan confessed to providing Iran, Libya and North Korea with technical assistance and components for making high-speed centrifuges. Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, pardoned him and allowed him to keep the riches he allegedly made from his illicit nuclear deals.
The CIA released a report in November saying it believed Khan aided Iran's nuclear weapons program more than previously disclosed, but the unclassified version of the report made no mention of actual centrifuges being delivered to the Iranians.
Ahmed, the information minister, initially made the admission about Khan at a seminar in Islamabad organized by a local newspaper group, in which he stuck by Pakistan's insistence that Khan would never be handed over to a third country for prosecution.
"Yes, we supplied Iran the centrifuge system. Yes, Dr. Qadeer gave Iran this technology. But we are not going to hand over Dr. Qadeer to anyone. We will not," Ahmed said at the seminar, according to an audiotape obtained by the Associated Press.