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U.S. to Reward Pakistan With New Arms Status

As a non-NATO ally, the nation will have easier access to weapons and military equipment. The move comes amid a nuclear sales scandal.

March 19, 2004|T. Christian Miller | Times Staff Writer

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell announced Thursday that the United States would give this nation easier access to weapons and military equipment, despite questions about the Pakistani armed forces' role in selling nuclear secrets to other countries.

Powell said at a news conference here that the U.S. planned to designate Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally, a status that would allow the South Asia nation to buy controversial depleted uranium ammunition and receive U.S. government financing to obtain weapons.

The designation, mostly a symbolic recognition of this nation's importance to the U.S.-declared war on terrorism, is bound to cause controversy in neighboring India, Pakistan's longtime rival, and among critics who have accused Pakistan of ignoring or abetting the illegal nuclear sales by former chief government scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

"Both our countries recognize that our alliance is crucial to winning the worldwide war on terror," Powell said. "We must do together more if your region and indeed the whole world is to live in peace."

Pakistan joins longtime U.S. allies outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organization such as Japan and Australia in receiving the status, which the Bush administration has awarded in recent years to a growing number of nations, including Kuwait, Thailand, the Philippines and Bahrain. Powell also announced new loan guarantees awarded to Pakistan by the Export-Import Bank of the United States.

The new arms status, which will take effect 30 days after the Bush administration notifies Congress, comes even as Powell presses Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on the role that current or former Pakistani military officials might have played in the spread of nuclear technology to nations such as Libya, Iran and North Korea.

Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, made a televised confession last month that he had helped other nations improve their nuclear capability. Musharraf immediately pardoned him.

Suspicions persist, however, that Khan could not have acted alone. His laboratory was funded by the government; the country is ruled by a military regime with an extensive intelligence network; and high-ranking military officials were charged with overseeing his activities.

Powell declined to characterize the response he had received from Musharraf during a lunch the two men had together, other than to say he had learned information that was "new to me."

Though Pakistan has not allowed U.S. officials direct access to Khan, Powell said he was confident that the Pakistani intelligence service was providing full disclosure on the issue.

"This is a Pakistani internal matter, but we are receiving information from them and our services work very well together," Powell said.

The new designation and loan guarantees are the latest attempt by the Bush administration to support Musharraf, who has faced difficulties at home because of his alliance with the United States. U.S. officials have proceeded cautiously in confronting his government on a range of issues, from human rights abuses to his military's toleration of training camps used by guerrillas to launch attacks in Indian-controlled portions of Kashmir.

At the same time, the administration has pledged $3 billion in aid to Pakistan over the next five years, forgiven almost $1.5 billion in debt and stepped up military and intelligence cooperation.

In Washington, a U.S. official acknowledged that some Indians might be unhappy that the administration was providing more military aid to their longtime rival. But, "this was not intended that way," he said, noting that the United States is carrying on an assistance program with India that involves high-tech civilian nuclear equipment and other technologies.

The message for Pakistan was "attaboy," and "we're going to continue to support you with the material and training you need to be effective," he said.

Powell said the new status had been in the planning stages for months and was not a quid pro quo for Musharraf's clamping down on Khan, who is a national hero in Pakistan.

"It's not a reward for A.Q. Khan," said Powell, who has spoken with Musharraf more than 80 times since the Sept. 11 attacks. "It's part of a continuing relationship."

Powell also added to U.S. criticism of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spain's prime minister-designate, who won office after a terrorist bombing last week in Madrid killed 202 people and injured 1,500. Zapatero, a longtime critic of the Iraq war, this week said his government would pull Spain's 1,300 troops out of Iraq in June unless there was a new United Nations resolution.

Speaking to Pakistani students at a heavily protected cultural center sponsored by the U.S. Embassy, Powell warned that terrorist acts should not influence political decisions.

"You can't let yourself become hostage to this kind of murder, otherwise, where are we?" Powell said. "We're back in the jungle."

Powell arrived in Kuwait late Thursday, and by early today had moved on to Baghdad for talks with Iraqi and Coalition Provisional Authority officials.

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Times staff writer Paul Richter in Washington contributed to this report.

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