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Pakistan dismisses nuclear fears in leaked U.S. cables

By the CNN Wire Staff
Nuclear-capable missiles are driven on a mobile launcher during a Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad in 2008.
Nuclear-capable missiles are driven on a mobile launcher during a Pakistan Day military parade in Islamabad in 2008.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 'Pakistan's nuclear assets are safe,' top official says
  • Leaked U.S. diplomatic cables reveal concerns over Pakistan's uranium stockpile
  • Struggle to fight Islamic militants and economic crisis also cited

(CNN) -- Top Pakistani officials on Wednesday dismissed fears over the safety of the nation's nuclear weapons revealed in U.S. diplomatic cables.

"Pakistan's nuclear assets are safe," said Qamar Zaman Kaira, the information minister. "All major countries, including the U.S., have shown they're satisfied with the security of our nuclear assets."

U.S. diplomatic cables cited by The New York Times reveal concerns over Pakistan's uranium stockpile, its role in the struggle against Islamic militants and its economic crisis.

The documents are among the vast cache of U.S. State Department papers that WikiLeaks, a website known for leaking official secrets, began releasing Sunday to widespread condemnation from the United States and its allies. CNN cannot independently verify the content of all the cables from the website.

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Cables revealed by The Times show that the U.S. ambassador in Islamabad was concerned over a supply of highly enriched uranium at an aging research reactor, allegedly enough to build several "dirty bombs."

The Times cites a cable dated May 27, 2009, in which Ambassador Anne Patterson said the Pakistani government was dragging its feet on an agreement that would allow the U.S. to remove the material. She said the Pakistani government was concerned that the "sensational' international and local media coverage of Pakistan's nuclear weapons made it impossible to proceed at this time."

A foreign ministry spokesman said fears over the nation's nuclear weapons are misplaced.

"Their fears are misplaced and doubtless fall in the realm of condescension," spokesman Abdul Basit said. "There has not been a single incident involving our fissile material which clearly reflects how strong our controls and mechanisms are."

Basit said Pakistan has "extended experience in handling nuclear stuff."

Nuclear safety was not the only concern linked to Pakistan in the cables.

One document cited says Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari had told U.S. Vice President Joe Biden that the Pakistani military might "take me out."

However, Kaira said, the nation was not at risk of a coup.

"All of Pakistan's institutions, including military, have learned lessons from the past," the minister said. "There would be no military coup today. The people of Pakistan will not allow a coup."

Other governments are also preoccupied by Pakistan, including Saudi Arabia, according to a CNN survey of the leaked cables.

In a cable sent to Washington in February, Ambassador James Smith writes: "King Abdullah firmly believes that Asif Zardari is the primary obstacle to the government's ability to move unequivocally to end terrorist safe havens there ('when the head is rotten, it affects the whole body')."

Kaira refuted the accusation, saying the government is committed to the war against terrorism.

"We have won the war in many parts of the country and we are winning in other parts of the country. I admit the success is slow because the war is very long."

A cable from June 2009 said Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told U.S. diplomats that Pakistan was his "private nightmare," suggesting that the world might wake up one morning "with everything changed" after a potential Islamic extremist takeover.

CNN's Reza Sayah and Tim Lister contributed to this report.

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