Pakistan investigators want to question disgraced nuclear scientist

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pakistan wants to question nuclear scientist

LAHORE, Pakistan — The Pakistani government has requested permission to question disgraced nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan over recent media reports that Pakistan arranged the transfer of nuclear technology to Iran.

The government move comes amid fears by the U.S. and its allies that Iran is using its nuclear program to develop atomic weapons. It also comes as top Pakistani officials are in Washington for bilateral talks this week, with Islamabad demanding that Washington acknowledge its progress in the fight against terrorism.

The request to Pakistan’s High Court in the city of Lahore came Monday as the court was preparing to rule on a petition by Khan against restrictions against his movement. Khan can only leave his house in the capital surrounded by a team of government agents and is prevented from meeting foreigners.

The court is expected to rule Wednesday on both requests.

Government lawyer Ahmar Bilal Sufi filed the request after The Washington Post published stories in March based on an account allegedly written by Khan that said Iran had tried to buy nuclear weapons from Pakistan in the late 1980s. The stories say Pakistan instead gave Iran bomb-related drawings and other nuclear technology.

Sufi says Khan has since denied making those claims.

Khan was detained by Pakistan in December 2003 and admitted on television in early 2004 to sole responsibility for operating a network that spread nuclear weapons technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya. He has since retracted that statement but his case remains extremely politically sensitive in Pakistan.

He was pardoned by then-President Pervez Musharraf, but immediately placed under de facto house arrest. Pakistan has refused to allow U.N. nuclear agency representatives or other governments to question Khan, amid lingering suspicions that Pakistani authorities were at least partially aware of his activities.

“I am virtually a confined man,” Khan told reporters Monday. “The road in front of my house is blocked, and no one can come easily to see me.”

Khan is regarded by many Pakistanis as a hero for his key role in developing its nuclear weapons program. Government officials say he is kept under close watch for his own safety, but many analysts say the powerful military and intelligence agencies restrict his movement because they fear he may implicate them in past nuclear proliferation.

April 20, 2010: 5:12 am

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