Frustration Mounts between US, Pakistan ; Congress Pressures Pakistan to Give More Information about Possible Proliferation, Upsetting Already-Delicate Ties

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One of the central relationships forged after 9/11 has hit a rough patch. The latest irritant between Washington and Islamabad came last week as US lawmakers urged Pakistan to wring more information from disgraced nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, alleging that he may yet hold the blueprint to some of Iran's nuclear secrets.

Earlier this month, Islamabad officially closed its investigation. While Mr. Khan remains under house arrest, Pakistani officials say they've given Washington all the details they could get out of him - though that information has never been made public.

"Some question whether the A.Q. Khan network is truly out of business, asking if it's not merely hibernating. We'd be foolish to rule out that chilling possibility," said Republican legislator Edward R. Royce in a statement at the Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Nonproliferation hearing. "Vigilance and greater international pressure on Pakistan to air out the Khan network is in order."

So far, the tough talk is coming only from Congress, suggesting that the White House may be more keenly aware of the many demands already placed on Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf, including the pursuit of Al Qaeda suspects, the curbing of cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, and the development of good governance to keep radical Islam at bay. Some analysts say that the demand for access to Khan risks pushing an already delicate relationship to the point of overburn at a time when Pakistan is warming up to Iran.

"Even if the US gets access to Khan, he might not be able to give information on [Iran]. Khan has never been to Iran," says Hasan Askari Rizvi, a defense analyst in Lahore, Pakistan. "If you apply pressure, you may not get the information you want. The US will have to determine its priorities."

Interrogating Khan is a wish that Islamabad has never granted: Washington has always had to go through the Pakistani military to get to Khan, cherished as a national hero. Some say that's the problem, that Khan has never been pressed hard enough. Pakistan authorities, however, defied Congressional demands last week, saying Khan would never be given up.

"The government of Pakistan does not allow direct interrogation of Khan," says Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, spokesman for the Pakistani military. Pakistan's foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri, recently told a parliamentary session that Pakistan would not "take dictation from anybody on our national interests."

Some saw double trouble in these words. For not long after he spoke them, Mr. Kasuri and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz were busy feting Iran's foreign minister, who came to Islamabad with visions of building a $7 billion gas pipeline.

Other signs of a deepening relationship between the two Islamic republics include:

* a proposed joint investment company to boost bilateral trade up to $1 billion;

* the ratification of a bilateral preferential trade agreement by the Iranian Parliament;

* a new Iranian center in Pakistan to provide artificial limbs for quake victims;

* Pakistan's opposition to a military option in the Iranian nuclear controversy. …