By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
The creator of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program boasted in a recent television interview that he and other senior Pakistani officials, eager to see Iran develop nuclear weapons, years ago guided that country to a proven network of suppliers and helped advance its covert efforts.
A.Q. Khan, whom Washington considers the world's most ambitious proliferator of nuclear weapons technology, told a television interviewer in Karachi, Pakistan, that if Iran succeeds in "acquiring nuclear technology, we will be a strong bloc in the region to counter international pressure. Iran's nuclear capability will neutralize Israel's power."
Although Khan has previously claimed nationalist and religious justifications for helping to spread sensitive technology, several experts said his latest statement was an unusually direct claim of broad, official Pakistani support for an Iranian nuclear weapon.
The interview with Khan was broadcast Aug. 31 by Aaj News Television. A translation of his remarks -- describing covert purchases by Iran of equipment through Pakistan's "reliable" suppliers in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates -- was prepared by the Director of National Intelligence's Open Source Center and posted Tuesday on Secrecy News, a blog of the Federation of American Scientists.
The Pakistani government has repeatedly asserted that Khan acted alone in illicitly spreading nuclear weapons technology, and it has denied that there was official support for helping either Iran's nuclear program or North Korea's. But Khan, who has spent the past several years under a form of house arrest, has long insisted privately that his contacts with both countries were approved by top military officials.
In the interview, Khan was less direct about his contacts with North Korea. He confirmed that Pakistan obtained critical missile technology from the country, but he refused to comment "at the moment" on aiding its nuclear program. U.S. and allied proliferation experts, and some former senior Pakistani officials, have said that Khan assisted North Korea in developing a capability to enrich uranium for a bomb.
Several years ago, North Korea said it was pursuing uranium enrichment, then denied it. Last week, it said it was in the "final stage" of enriching uranium. Khan, in the interview, said North Korean engineers have visited "our director generals in their departments to observe different operations." But he added that "nuclear technology cannot be learned by visiting a nuclear site and observing a few machines."
Stephen P. Cohen, a proliferation expert at the Brookings Institution, said Khan has "always threatened to tell more -- perhaps who authorized the transfer of designs and samples of technology, if not more, to several states." But he said Khan appeared to hold back a lot in the interview.
A spokesman at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, Nadeem Kiani, emphasized that Khan has no "official status" and that Pakistan "does not want proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region."
"These are the views of a person who has been rendered ineffective, and his network has been completely shut up," Kiani said.