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Pakistan: No nuke race with India

Top nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan recently admitted selling nuclear secrets.
Top nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan recently admitted selling nuclear secrets.

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LONDON, England (Reuters) -- Pakistan has no interest in matching India's nuclear weapons development and does not need outside help to maintain or advance its programme, President Pervez Musharraf told the Financial Times newspaper.

He rejected any move to bring in foreign inspectors to monitor Pakistan's nuclear weapons or civil nuclear facilities after the father of the country's atomic bomb confessed this month to selling nuclear secrets to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

"We are not interested in competing with India," Musharraf said in an interview in Wednesday's newspaper.

But he said that in the next few weeks Pakistan would test-fire its Saheen II missile, which has a range of 2,000 km (1,200 miles), making it capable of striking just about anywhere in India.

"If they want to reach 5,000 km, or have intercontinental ballistic missiles, we are not interested in those. We are only interested in our own defence," he said of India.

In a wide-ranging interview, Musharraf also said Pakistan would not freeze its nuclear weapons programme.

"We will never stop our nuclear and missile programme," he said. "That is our vital national interest. It is totally indigenous now. Whatever had to be imported and procured has been obtained."

That included buying conventional surface-to-air missiles from North Korea in 2002 when Pakistan and India went to the brink of their fourth war after militants from disputed Kashmir attacked the parliament building in the heart of Delhi.

'Not responsible'

Musharraf said top nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan had acted alone in selling atomic secrets to other countries.

But many in Pakistan and outside have doubted this, saying Khan could not have carried out the transfer of nuclear technology, including the use of transport aircraft to fly equipment to buyers, without the knowledge, and possible assistance, of senior military officials.

"No sir. It (Pakistan's nuclear programme) is not under the aegis of the military. It never was and it is not now," Musharraf told the Financial Times.

He reiterated he had heard nothing of Khan's nuclear smuggling since he became Pakistan's military chief in 1998 and the country's leader in a bloodless coup the following year.

"I believe in the army dictum that a commander is responsible for all that happens or does not happen in his command -- and to that extent any president is responsible for what happens in his country.

"But otherwise, if you are hinting at my direct responsibility, no not at all," he told the newspaper.

News of Khan's nuclear smuggling confession sparked alarm in the United States that atomic arms could fall into the hands of Washington's enemies.

Asked if foreign inspectors should be allowed to examine the country's nuclear programme, he said:

"This is a very sensitive issue," he said. "Would any other nuclear power allow its sensitive installations to be inspected? Why should Pakistan be expected to allow anybody to inspect?"

"We are not hiding anything... what is the need for any inspection?" the president said.

Last week, U.S. President George W. Bush proposed that only states that sign a protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to permit unannounced U.N. nuclear inspections be allowed to import equipment for civil nuclear programmes. (Full story)

Earlier on Tuesday, Pakistan agreed a framework for peace talks with India, in which nuclear security was a top issues. (Full story)

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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