Wed, Dec 24, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Pakistan questions nuclear scientists over possible leaks

AP , ISLAMABAD

Pakistan has questioned the founder of its nuclear program as part of investigations into whether any of its scientists leaked sensitive technology to other countries, the Foreign Ministry said.

Scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan is not in custody but was questioned in connection with "the ongoing debriefing sessions" of a "very small number of scientists," ministry spokesman Masood Khan said Monday.

"No restrictions have been imposed on him," he added.

Pakistan's government strongly denies allegations it spread nuclear technology to countries such as Iran, North Korea and Libya but acknowledged Monday the possibility that individual scientists may have acted without authorization.

In Washington, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has assured the US that Pakistan is not offering technology related to weapons of mass destruction to Libya and Iran.

"President Musharraf has assured us there are not any transfers of WMD-related technologies or know-how going on in the present time," he told reporters.

At least two scientists from Khan Research Laboratories, the country's top nuclear laboratory named after its founder, were held for questioning this month -- including Mohammad Farooq, its former director general and aide to Khan. Farooq is still in custody.

"Dr. Farooq is still undergoing a dependability and debriefing session," the ministry spokesman said.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said Pakistan's government had not authorized the spread of sensitive technology to any country, but acknowledged it was looking into whether individuals involved in its nuclear program had.

"Some individuals may have been doing something on their own. We are investigating that," Ahmed said.

Officials have declined to give details about the "in-house" investigations and what allegations the scientists faced.

Pakistan, which carried out nuclear weapons tests in 1998, "takes its responsibilities as a nuclear weapons state very seriously," he said.

"The government of Pakistan has not authorized any transfers of sensitive nuclear technology to other countries. We have a strong command and control system. Only individuals are being investigated," he said.

Pakistan's admission came just days after Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi's surprise announcement Friday that his country was abandoning its weapons of mass destruction. On Monday, Libya agreed to open its nuclear activities to pervasive inspection by the UN atomic agency as early as next week.

According to diplomats, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency has identified Russia, China and Pakistan as probable sources for equipment used by Iran for possible nuclear weapons development.

Ahmed said the investigations followed "IAEA reservations and recent news reports in the Western world."

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