New Details Emerge on Pakistani Networks

By Kerr, Paul | Arms Control Today, May 2005 | Go to article overview

New Details Emerge on Pakistani Networks


Kerr, Paul, Arms Control Today


New details are emerging about Pakistan's role as both a customer and supplier of materials and equipment with potential nuclear weapons applications as international investigations pry deeper into the country's clandestine procurement networks.

Islamabad admitted in early 2004 that Abdul Qadeer Khan, the "father" of its nuclear weapons program, had been running a clandestine proliferation network that supplied countries such as Iran, Libya, and North Korea with uranium-enrichment technology. Khan developed the network through contacts he had cultivated while obtaining materials and equipment for Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.

Uranium enrichment increases the concentration of the uranium-235 isotope, producing either low-enriched uranium for civilian nuclear reactor fuel or highly enriched uranium (HEU). If enriched to high enough levels, HEU can be used as fissile material in nuclear weapons.

Khan's network supplied Iran and Libya with technology and equipment for gas centrifuges, which enrich uranium hexafluoride gas by spinning it at very high speeds. In the Libyan case, Tripoli has acknowledged that the network also supplied Libya with uranium hexafluoride and designs for a nuclear weapon.

The United States has repeatedly stated that there is no evidence that Pakistan's government was involved with or supported the Khan network. Washington has repeatedly expressed satisfaction with Islamabad's cooperation, despite Pakistan's refusal to allow any outside officials to question Khan.

Pakistan as Supplier

Iran

Pakistan has recently stepped up its cooperation with an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation into the sources of some enriched uranium particles found in Iranian facilities. Iran has admitted to enriching uranium to very low proportions of uranium-235, but IAEA inspectors have found particles enriched to much higher levels. (see ACT, April 2005.)

As part of the investigation, IAEA inspectors have already taken environmental samples at several locations in Pakistan to determine where the uranium might have been enriched. Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri told reporters April 1 that Islamabad has now agreed "in principle" to send centrifuges to the IAEA for additional sampling, but will not allow agency inspectors to interview Khan or inspect Pakistan's nuclear facilities.

IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei reported last November that the IAEA's evidence so far "tends, on balance, to support" Iran's claim that the particles came from imported centrifuge components, but indicated that there could be other explanations for the uranium's presence.

North Korea

The United States has recently publicly disclosed an intelligence assessment that North Korea supplied Libya with uranium hexafluoride via the Khan network.

Speaking to an audience in Seoul March 6, then-U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Christopher Hill indicated that Washington has "evidence" that the material originated in North Korea and "was brokered through Pakistan with the knowledge that it would end up in Libya."

A March 22 Department of State press statement emphasized that Washington "has no evidence that the Government of Pakistan authorized the transfer. …

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