US helps Pakistan guard nuclear arms in secret programme (Roundup)
Nov 18, 2007, 2:00 GMT
Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf (L) administering oath to Muhammad Mian Soomro as Caretaker Prime Minister in Islamabad. Pakistani President Musharraf today swore in a new care taker government, to hold general elections in January 2008, following the dissolution of the parliament after completing its five-year term. Former prime minister and liberal opposition leader Benazir Bhutto refuted the legitimacy of the new cabinet after she was freed from a three-day house arrest in the eastern city of Lahore. EPA/PRESS INFORMATION DEPARTMENT/HO EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Washington - The United States has been helping Pakistan to secure its nuclear weapons in a secret, highly classified programme, the New York Times reported late Saturday on its website.
The US has spent 100 million dollars over the past six years to train Pakistani experts in the United States and to help Pakistan build its own nuclear security training center, the newspaper reported, citing unnamed current and former senior government officials.
The money was hidden in the 10 billion dollars of US aid to Pakistan since 2001, when it became a vital ally to the United States in ousting the Taliban from Afghanistan.
Pakistan's nuclear weapons security has worried US officials especially during recent weeks of upheaval in Pakistan, where President Pervez Musharraf has declared a state of emergency and suspended the constitution.
Musharraf is caught between demands for reform by democracy advocates and threats by a growing, militant Islamist movement and al-Qaeda terrorist stronghold in tribal areas.
The New York Times said it has known about the secret programme for three years but refrained from publishing at the request of the White House. In light of new worries about Pakistan's stability and revelations about US helping secure the nuclear arsenal in the Pakistani media, the Times told the Bush administration it was resuming its investigation. US officials then removed their request to halt publication.
The secret programme has supplied helicopters, night vision goggles, nuclear detection equipment, fencing and surveillance systems to help Pakistan secure its nuclear material, its warheads and laboratories, according to the story.
Earlier this week, the US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, told reporters that he saw no 'indication right now that security of those weapons is in jeopardy, but clearly we are very watchful, as we should be.'
The Washington Post recently reported that the Pentagon had developed a contingency plan to safeguard the weapons if there was a threat to their security.
The Pakistan government last week said its nuclear weapons were fully secured and in no danger of falling into the wrong hands, with multi-layered command and control mechanisms in place since 2000.
Pakistan is thought to have amassed materials for around 90 nuclear weapons since it carried out its first test blast in 1998, after its arch-rival India acquired nuclear capability.
But its record of nuclear management has been in question since it was revealed in 2004 that the father of its nuclear programme, Abdul Qadir Khan, had secretly sold restricted technology abroad.
North Korea, Iran and Libya were among the alleged recipients of centrifuges and other equipment needed to develop weapons.
The Times said that the US has twice considered showing Pakistan how it places security locks on US nuclear weapons, requiring number sequences for launch. But the US was reluctant to share the technology because it could have revealed too much about its own nuclear arsenal, and the Pakistanis were suspicious that the US would insert its own override ability into the programmes.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur