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World - Asia-Pacific

U.S. sources: Pakistan edging closer to nuclear tests

Protest
The Pakistani people are calling for a nuclear test, but their country could lose critical economic aid if testing takes place  
 
Interview with Pakistani Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan
icon 7 min. VXtreme video

Pakistani foreign minister dismisses assessment as 'guess'

May 27, 1998
Web posted at: 11:55 p.m. EDT (0355 GMT)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (CNN) -- Despite intense diplomatic pressure by the United States, Pakistan appears to be edging ever closer to setting off an underground nuclear test, according to the latest information from U.S. intelligence sources.

Those sources told CNN that Pakistani workers at a test site near the Iranian border have put a nuclear device in a shaft and encased it in concrete. The process, known as "stemming," would make it difficult to retrieve the device without detonating it.

But in an interview with CNN, Pakistani Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan downplayed U.S. intelligence reports that Pakistan appears ready to conduct a nuclear test.

"All intelligence offices of any worth will cover themselves by saying 'probably,' 'possibly,' 'if,' 'maybe,' 'perhaps,'" Khan said. "They have no information as such. What they're trying to do is make an intelligent guess."

However, Khan said "nothing whatsoever" was keeping Pakistan from proceeding with a test, and that it was not a case of if Pakistan would conduct a test but when.

Asked when a test might occur, Khan responded, "You want me to be hung? These are not the sort of things one gives on television."

Pakistan claims India plans to attack its nuclear facilities

Meanwhile, Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations told CNN Wednesday night that his government had reliable information about Indian intentions to launch air strikes against Pakistan's nuclear test facilities. But U.S. officials said they saw no evidence to support that fear.

Ahmad Kamal told CNN that if India strikes, Pakistan's response would be "massive" and would "bode ill for peace."

"We're involved in this threat and in making sure that it does not arise because if it does, the world must understand that Pakistan is ready, that it will react, that the reaction will be massive and dissuasive, and that it would lead us into a situation which would bode ill for peace and security, not only in the region, but beyond," Kamal said.

White House spokesman Mike McCurry on Wednesday night downplayed the possibility of an attack by India against Pakistan.

"The U.S. has no basis to believe what CNN has been told is true," McCurry said.

Kamal, who did not disclose the source of information about an attack, told U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the government of the Security Council's five permanent members about his country's concern, according to a U.N. spokesman.

India denied the claim. An Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman said: "The Pakistani charge is malicious and completely baseless."

Khan: Crisis pushes Pakistan closer to China

Kahn
Pakistani Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan says his country could absorb a nuclear attack easier than India  

The specter of Pakistani nuclear tests was raised after its arch-rival, India, exploded five underground nuclear devices earlier this month. The United States and Britain have been pushing the Pakistanis not to respond in kind, a move they fear could set off an arms race in South Asia.

"We are obviously engaged in a serious discussion with (Pakistanis) about their security in the aftermath of this decision by India to test, and how our relationship with them could be enhanced," said State Department spokesman James Rubin.

Khan said he was not aware of any specific discussions about the United States providing security guarantees to Pakistan. Rather, he said discussions have centered on a shipment of F-16 jet fighters, which Pakistan arranged to buy from the United States in the late 1980s. Congress has blocked the transfer because of Pakistan's fledgling nuclear program.

The Pakistani foreign minister also indicated that the crisis over India's nuclear tests may push Pakistan closer to China because "the friends that we were with during the Cold War ... were not forthcoming in the hours of crisis."

"We've always had the best of relationships with China -- a relationship on which we can rely upon, a relationship we can trust, a relationship which has depth and forms the cornerstone of our foreign policy, a relationship on which the people of Pakistan can rely," he said.

Nuclear tension

The Bomb:Who has it? Who wants it?

A cold war of words:Gauging the rhetoric exchanged between India, Pakistan

TIME:Why the CIA didn't have a clue...

Treaty Text: Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty

Background Special:India and Pakistan -- Fifty years of independence

Message Board:Will India's testing prompt new arms race?

Related Site:
Federation of American Scientists

Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

China and India have been long-time political rivals, and the perceived threat from China was one of the reasons Indian officials gave for proceeding with nuclear tests.

Pakistani delegation in Washington this weekend

On Wednesday, the Pakistani Embassy in Washington announced that a delegation from Pakistan will arrive in the U.S. capital for discussions this weekend. The delegation will be headed by Akram Zaki, a member of Pakistan's legislature who has close ties with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

While the itinerary is not complete, the embassy said the delegation will try to meet with officials at the State Department and the National Security Council, as well as members of Congress.

State Department officials have told CNN that dialogue between Pakistan and the United States is continuing at the highest levels. President Bill Clinton has spoken to Sharif directly at least three times.

Fears that sanctions may push Pakistan into default

But domestic pressure is growing on Sharif to counter the Indian tests.

  Pakistani Debt
  • Foreign Reserves -- $1.2 billion
  • Short-Term Debt -- $5 billion to $6 billion

"If the prime minister of Pakistan does not test, he is viewed within the country as selling out national security for Uncle Sam and the International Monetary Fund," said Asian analyst Michael Krepon. "And if he does test, then the country's economic straits, which are very severe ... will grow worse."

Should Pakistan proceed with tests, the country could face the same international sanctions slapped on India after its nuclear blasts. And for Pakistan, the results of that could be dramatic.

According to an official with an international lending organization, Pakistan has financial reserves of only slightly more than $1 billion, while its short-term debt, due in the next three months, is between $5 billion and $6 billion. Some experts fear that sanctions could push Pakistan into default.

"Pakistan may be driven to test a nuclear device for political reasons within the country, (to) show its own people that it can do this, even though, from the standpoint of a national interest, it would be better off not testing," said Asian analyst George Perkovich.

State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel, Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre, Reporter Kasra Naji and Reuters contributed to this report.

 

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