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Pakistan dismisses reports about nuclear arms security concerns

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  • Foreign Ministry: Reports are apparently prompted by questionable motives
  • U.S. concerned about who would control Pakistan's nukes after power shift
  • Pakistan's president may be pondering state of emergency as opposition grows
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(CNN) -- Pakistan on Saturday shrugged off reports that raised questions about the security of its nuclear weapons in light of recent political turmoil.

"Pakistan's strategic assets are completely safe and secure, and the highest level of institutionalized protection is accorded to them," the Foreign Ministry said in a news release.

It cited a spokesperson who "dismissed the concerns raised by certain inspired and tendentious reports in the Western media about the safety of Pakistan's strategic assets."

"Pakistan's command and control structures are not controlled by individual personalities but are institutionalized and multi-layered to ensure safety and security at multiple levels," the release said.

CNN reported Friday that U.S. military intelligence officials were urgently assessing how secure Pakistan's nuclear weapons would be if President Pervez Musharraf were replaced as the nation's leader.

The assessment is part of a broader review of the military and security situation in Pakistan.

Three U.S. sources have independently confirmed details of the intelligence review to CNN, but would not allow their names to be used because of the sensitivity of the matter. The sources include military officers and intelligence community analysts.

Officials say that Pakistan and its nuclear weapons are always a high intelligence priority for the United States.

The current review is a result of recent developments in that country, including the prospect that Musharraf could declare a national emergency that would give him sweeping powers.

Although the Pakistani government ruled out the emergency declaration Thursday, the three sources told CNN that the United States thinks Musharraf may still impose those measures.Video Watch a report on whether the U.S.-Pakistani alliance is in trouble »

On the issue of nuclear weapons control, the U.S. assessment is that currently, the United States has full knowledge of where Pakistan's nuclear weapons are located.

But the key questions, officials say, are what would happen and who would control the weapons in the hours after any change in government in case Musharraf were killed or overthrown.

Musharraf controls the loyalty of the commanders and senior officials in charge of the nuclear program, but those loyalties could shift at any point, officials say.

The United States is not certain who might start controlling nuclear launch codes and weapons if that shift in power were to happen.

According to the U.S. analysis, there is also a growing understanding that Musharraf's control over the military remains limited to certain top commanders and units, raising worries about whether he can maintain control over the long term.

U.S. analysts are watching current Pakistani troop movements closely to see whether Musharraf is making any moves that could indicate he is about to impose emergency measures. It appears that in recent weeks, a large number of troops left the Kashmir region to go to the tribal regions along the Afghan border, officials say.

The U.S. officials also say one of the key problems for the U.S. military is what restrictions on U.S.-Pakistani military cooperation could be imposed if Musharraf were to impose heavy security restrictions in his country.

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The Foreign Ministry news release said the reports "have no basis and are apparently prompted by questionable motives."

"Pakistan's commitment to nuclear non-proliferation is strong and abiding. This commitment will be maintained despite the evident bias against our deterrent capability and our legitimate interest in development and access to civil nuclear energy for economic development." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About Nuclear WeaponsPervez MusharrafPakistan

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