The United States is informing Pakistan it has no plan or intention to use covert action to sabotage a uranium enrichment plant under construction near Islamabad that will be capable of producing material for an atomic bomb, a senior State Department official said yesterday.
The U.S. diplomatic assurances were ordered after Ambassador Arthur Hummel was called to the Pakistani Foreign Office yesterday to receive a protest about an article in the U.S. press.
The article in the New York Times listed "covert operations" as an option under debate as the United States seeks a policy to deal with the nuclear fuel plant. The United States disclosed the existence of the plant April 6, and announced the termination of U.S. economic and military aid to Pakistan under a law aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.
State Department spokesman Thomas Reston said Monday, in response to questions from reporters, that covert action "is not under consideration."
A senior State Department official said yesterday that covert action against the plant is "not an option that we seriously or systematically considered." He said the administration was making every effort to preserve its relations with Pakistan even while strongly objecting to the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
There has been speculation that India might seek to disable the plant before a new nuclear weapons capability could be created on its border.The United States has sought to discourage India from any such paramilitary action, according to U.S. sources.
In Islamabad, Pakistani officials indicated that they were not satisfied with the State Department denial of any plan to use covert action. A Foreign Office spokesman said the U.S. statement "did not rule out the option of action by paramilitary forces . . . which will amount to outright aggresssion."
In an interview published by Karachi, Pakistani Defense Minister Ali Ahmed Talpur said his country "will not succumb to external pressures on the question of its nuclear program."
He denied that Pakistan intended to make nuclear weapons and said its atomic power program was for peaceful energy purposes. However, Talpur said the Pakistani government would not allow any outsiders to inspect its nuclear facilities to verify that claim.
Recently, two French diplomats and a British journalist were beaten up when they tried to investigate the Pakistani nuclear program.
In his meeting at the Pakistani Foreign Office, Ambassador Hummel was told reportedly that Pakistan would have no option but to complain to an "international forum" about what it called U.S. plans to torpedo its nuclear program.
According to news reports from Islamabad, the Foreign Office denounced a reported statement in Calcutta, India, Friday by Sen. Charles Percy (R-Ill.) that Pakistan was out to produced a nuclear weapon capable of reaching New Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta. The Foreign Office told Hummel the statement amounted to an "incitement" of India, a country with which Pakistan wanted good relations.
India exploded a nuclear device in May 1974, but later said it was renouncing any atomic weapons program. However, India has reportedly begun to review its policy because of reports that Pakistan is acting to acquire nuclear weapons capability.