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U.S. supports nuclear pardon

From CNN's Islamabad Bureau Chief Ash-har Quraishi

Anti-government demonstrators in Karachi protest in defense of disgraced nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan.
Anti-government demonstrators in Karachi protest in defense of disgraced nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan.

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ISLAMABAD (CNN) -- The United States has supported Pakistan's presidential pardon of Abdul Qadeer Khan, after the father of the nation's nuclear program admitted he gave nuclear weapons technology to other countries.

President Pervez Musharraf's decision to pardon Khan was an internal Pakistani matter, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Musharraf said controls are now in place to stop such proliferation, and no one in his government was involved in the transfer of the technology, which went to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

However, an International Atomic Energy Agency official told CNN that IAEA Director General Mohammad ElBaradei had called the Khan revelations "just the tip of the iceberg."

The official added that ElBaradei is aware of individuals and companies in at least five other countries in Africa, Europe and Asia in the business of proliferating of nuclear technology.

Separately, former IAEA weapons inspector David Albright has urged the United States to put pressure on Pakistan to be more open with the agency.

Albright, now president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), told CNN Friday that the IAEA should be able to interview Khan and other Pakistan scientists involved in the counry's nuclear weapons program.

He said it was likely that people higher up in the Pakistan government knew of Khan's activities.

Khan's confession and subsequent pardon by Musharraf "may be necessary, but it's still a charade," he told CNN.

"There are so many questions unanswered," he said, such as exactly what technology was transferred, when it was transferred, and to whom.

And in a speech in Washington Thursday, U.S. Director of Intelligence George Tenet said Khan's transfer of nuclear technology "was shaving years" off the time some countries needed to develop nuclear weapons.

"His network is now answering to the world for years of nuclear profiteering," Tenet said.

Boucher said that "from the U.S. point of view, the broader picture is to stop the proliferation activity and to help the international community get at the networks that have been involved."

"What's important here is that the government of Pakistan take steps to make sure that Pakistan won't be a source of proliferation, either with materials, equipment, or especially with the intangibles, the expertise that can help other countries develop weapons of mass destruction," he said.

"We see Pakistan taking steps that go to that end."

He added, "The matter of punishment, the matter of what to do about the individuals involved, is a matter for Pakistan to decide."

Musharraf said Khan and the scientists who worked for him were motivated by "money."

Khan has been hailed a national hero.
Khan has been hailed a national hero.

He granted the pardon for Khan Thursday after it was recommended by Pakistan's Federal Cabinet.

Khan accepted responsibility and apologized Wednesday in a statement broadcast on Pakistani television.

"Much of it is true," he said of the allegations.

He said he was shown evidence of proliferation activities over the past two decades by Pakistanis and foreign nationals.

"The investigation has established that many of these activities did occur and that these were inevitably initiated at my behest."

He expressed "the deepest sense of sorrow and anguish," saying he knew that actions that jeopardized Pakistan's national security had traumatized the people of Pakistan. "I have much to answer for it," he said.

Khan took all the blame, saying Musharraf's government was unaware of what he was doing.

"There was never ever any kind of authorization for these activities by the government. I take full responsibility for my actions and seek your pardon," he said, adding that such activities "will never take place in the future."

The televised apology came shortly after he met with Musharraf.

The government said Khan had confessed to spreading nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea, and Libya up until the year 2000.

Military officials said nuclear weapons-related designs and components were smuggled to Iran in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Nuclear technology was transferred to North Korea and Libya in the 1990s.

The military officials said their information was based on debriefing sessions with Khan. In addition they said they had independent confirmation of some of the transfers.

Khan met and briefed scientists from the other countries and oversaw a web of transfers, they said.

The officials said direct shipments of nuclear hardware were made from Pakistan through Dubai and the Persian Gulf to North Korea.

The hardware and technology, they said, was smuggled from Khan Research Lab, a nuclear facility, outside of Islamabad.

They said uranium enrichment centrifuges were produced in Malaysia based on a Pakistani design.

There were a number of middle men involved in the transfers, the officials said, including a man now in custody in Malaysia as well as German and Dutch citizens.

There were mixed shipments that included new centrifuges and centrifuge parts.

Khan wrote a letter to Iran to destroy facilities once Pakistani officials opened an investigation.

The IAEA said Khan's statements mean the "cat is out of the bag" and the world now knows there is a black market for nuclear technology, the IAEA official said.

The IAEA's top priority now is to find out where else this nuclear knowledge, nuclear weapons blueprints, and other capability have gone and how far it has spread, CNN was told.

Diplomats close to the IAEA told CNN Malaysia is a major center for the nuclear proliferation business, and named an engineering company they believe is involved.

Malaysian Prime Minister Ahmad Badawi said Thursday police were still investigating these allegations, Bernama news agency reports. Abdullah's son is a shareholder in the company, the diplomats said.

The Malaysian company named in the investigation, Scomi Precision Engineering (Scope), is part of the Scomi Group, which has Abdullah's son Kamaluddin Abdullah as a major shareholder.

-- CNN's Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour contributed to this report

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