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Leaked Memos Reveal Further Concerns on Pakistani Nukes

Classified U.S. State Department cables released yesterday by the openness group WikiLeaks reveal ongoing concern among U.S. officials over the threat that political instability in Pakistan could pose to the nation's nuclear weapons, the Washington Post reported (see GSN, Nov. 30).

"Despite pending economic catastrophe, Pakistan is producing nuclear weapons at a faster rate than any other country in the world," states a December 2008 U.S. intelligence document prepared for NATO.

U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson wrote in a January 2009 report for then-U.S. national security adviser James Jones that Islamabad had taken a "defensive" position on its nuclear arsenal amid ongoing international news coverage of its security.

Pakistan "is particularly neuralgic to suggestions that its nuclear weapons could fall into terrorist hands and to reports of U.S. plans to seize the weapons in case of emergency," Patterson wrote.

A White House strategy meeting later that year addressed potential threats to the Pakistani nuclear arsenal in great detail, administration officials said.

"Why is it that we're trying to prevent the Pakistani government from collapsing?" one of the officials said said. "Because we fundamentally believe that we cannot afford a country with 80 to 100 nuclear weapons becoming the Congo."

"Shoring up Pakistan, helping it fight extremism, trying to improve its institutions are not just a humanitarian effort or some naive public diplomacy gambit," the source added. "There is a sense that other places in the world can go to hell, but not this one" (DeYoung/Miller, Washington Post, Nov. 30).

Mariot Leslie, a high-level British Foreign Office official, echoed U.S. fears in a September 2009 exchange with U.S. diplomats, the London Guardian reported.

One 2009 analysis by the United States warns Pakistan was working on a line of more compact nonstrategic nuclear weapons for possible use against Indian military personnel: "The result of this trend is the need for greater stocks of fissile material ... Strategic considerations point Pakistan in the direction of a larger nuclear force that requires a greater amount of fissile material, Pakistani officials argue" (David Leigh, London Guardian, Nov. 30).

Pakistan today said U.S. concerns about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal weapons were "misplaced and doubtless fall in the realm of condescension," Agence France-Presse reported.

"There has not been a single incident involving our fissile material, which clearly reflects how strong our controls and mechanisms are," Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Abdul Basit added (Nasir Jaffry, Agence France-Presse/Google News, Dec. 1).

Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to India Tim Roemer added in another document that if India acted on a blueprint for an invasion of Pakistan, New Delhi would "roll the nuclear dice," possibly prompting a Pakistani retaliation involving nuclear weapons, the Guardian reported (Leigh, London Guardian).

Another document reveals that the United States in 2008 unsuccessfully urged Islamabad not to release from house arrest former top Pakistani nuclear scientist and proliferator Abdul Qadeer Khan, the New York Times reported (see GSN, Nov. 15).

Senior State Department official Richard Boucher said the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad should “express Washington’s strong opposition to the release of Dr. Khan and urge the government of Pakistan to continue holding him under house arrest.” Freeing Khan would “undermine” Pakistan's previous proliferation efforts, he said.

“The damage done to international security by Dr. Khan and his associates is not a closed book,” Boucher wrote, referring to the Khan proliferation ring's involvement in sales of nuclear equipment and knowledge to Iran, North Korea “and possible other states” (David Sanger, New York Times, Nov. 30).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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