Pakistani scientist says government knew about nuclear shipment to North Korea

Friday, July 4, 2008

Khan previously claimed that he was involved in supplying nuclear technology to North Korea, but he now denies it.
(Image missing from Commons: image; log)

Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who has been under house arrest since 2004 for his alleged involvement in exporting nuclear technology to North Korea, Iran, and Libya, says that North Korea's shipment of gas centrifuges in 2000 was under the supervision of Pakistan's army.

In a phone interview with the Associated Press, Khan said that the centrifuges, which are used in the process of enriching uranium, were loaded in a North Korean plane under supervision of Pakistani security officials. He claims the shipment must have had the consent of President Pervez Musharraf, who at that time was chief of the army.

"It was a North Korean plane, and the army had complete knowledge about it and the equipment," Khan said. "It must have gone with [Musharraf's] consent." The Pakistani government has repeatedly denied any knowledge of the nuclear shipments.

Khan's claims contradict his 2004 confession, in which he reportedly admitted to providing North Korea, Iran, and Libya with nuclear materials and designs without authorization. He was put under house arrest after his confession, but was pardoned by Musharraf. He is still seen as a hero by many Pakistanis for his efforts in creating Pakistan's nuclear program.

It was a North Korean plane, and the army had complete knowledge about it and the equipment.

—Abdul Qadeer Khan

In recent weeks, Khan has begun retracting his confession, claiming he had been promised complete freedom for becoming a "scapegoat", promises which he says were "not honored". He says that some of his friends, including PML-Q leader and former Prime Minister Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, had persuaded him that it was in the national interest.

"In the interests of the country, I agreed to take the blame," he said. "A statement was given to me to read with the understanding that it would be followed by a presidential pardon, total rehabilitation and full freedom to move and meet anyone within the country. That promise was not kept on the part of the president."

Khan now denies ever traveling to Iran or Libya, and he says that North Korea's nuclear program had already been "well-advanced" before he arrived. He admits to making two trips to North Korea for the exchange of missile technology, but says the trips did not involve nuclear secrets and were government-sanctioned.

Musharraf's spokesman, Rashid Qureshi, denies Khan's allegations. "I can say with full confidence that it is all lies and false statements," he said. United States officials are also skeptical of Khan's recent claims. "We have not changed our assessment that A.Q. Khan was a very major and dangerous proliferator," an unnamed U.S. official said.

Khan's wife Hendrina has challenged her husband's house arrest, hiring attorney Mohammad Iqbal Jaffry to argue the case in court. Jaffry will petition for an end to Khan's restriction of movement, which his wife says constitutes an "illegal detention". A hearing has been scheduled for July 15.