YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The World

Musharraf Has Rumsfeld's Support in Nuclear Case

Defense chief doesn't believe Pakistan's leader was involved in selling weapons technology.

March 29, 2004|Chuck Neubauer | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Sunday that there was no reason to believe that Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, was involved in the nuclear black-market network operated by the country's former top atomic scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan.

"I do not believe that there's any evidence or any suggestion that President Musharraf was involved," Rumsfeld said on ABC's "This Week."

Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, is believed to have personally made millions of dollars from the illicit sales of nuclear components and technology to nations such as Libya, Iran and North Korea. His network received $100 million from Libya alone for the equipment and technology to make nuclear weapons, U.S. officials have said.

Last month, Pakistani television showed Khan seeking forgiveness from Musharraf. Khan admitted that he had made the deals, which he said had not been approved by the Pakistani government.

Critics have asked whether high-ranking members of the military may have known about the sales. Musharraf had been a general and Pakistan's military chief of staff before seizing power in a coup in 1999.

Rumsfeld said he could not rule out that there might have been some high-level military involvement in the sales, "because you can't prove a negative."

"But if you're asking me, do I think Musharraf, either now or when he was head of the military, was engaged with that ... I have no reason and have seen no evidence to suggest it," he said.

In an interview taped Friday in Islamabad and broadcast with Rumsfeld's appearance on "This Week," Musharraf told ABC that his critics were wrong to suggest any military complicity in the illegal sales. "Neither the military nor the government was involved," he said. "It was the individual."

Musharraf downplayed the damage done by Khan's illicit sales of nuclear technology.

"People are, I think, over-assessing the physical damage of the proliferation that he has done. It is a highly technical issue," he said, noting that it is not easy to produce a nuclear device. He said that even if an individual had a nuclear bomb, it could not be detonated without the expertise for a triggering mechanism.

"If I hand over a missile or a bomb to any extremist, believe me, he can do nothing about it. He cannot explode it," Musharraf said.

Rumsfeld said there was "no question but that A.Q. Khan has damaged the civilized world by engaging in the proliferation of nuclear technologies, and doing it systematically, and doing it aggressively, and doing it with multiple countries over a sustained period of time."

Musharraf denied that he had a deal with President Bush whereby the United States would go easy on Khan's illegal network in return for a crackdown by the Pakistani military on suspected Al Qaeda guerrillas on its border with Afghanistan.

"There is no deal whatsoever," Musharraf said. "This is all humbug. There is just no deal."

On Sunday, Pakistan announced that it would begin withdrawing troops from its border with Afghanistan, saying that the forces had succeeded in chasing down suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban militants.

The operation in South Waziristan, a largely lawless province in western Pakistan, began almost two weeks ago, with Musharraf hinting that a "high-value target" was in the area. As time passed, it became apparent that no top Al Qaeda leaders had been captured or were among those killed, and that any important figures had escaped.

This month, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell announced that the United States planned to give Pakistan easier access to weapons and military equipment by designating the country as a major non-NATO ally.

Los Angeles Times Articles