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‘Dr AQ Khan provided centrifuges to N. Korea’

August 25, 2005

ISLAMABAD, Aug 24: President General Pervez Musharraf has denied the allegations that transfers of centrifuge designs to North Korea by Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan helped N. Korea in acquiring nuclear weapons.

In an interview to Japanese news agency Kyodo here on Wednesday, the president confirmed that Dr Khan provided centrifuge machines and their designs to North Korea, but said these transfers did not help North Korea acquire a nuclear weapons capability.

Mr Khan confessed in February 2004 to having supplied nuclear technology and expertise to North Korea, Libya and Iran.

Gen Musharraf said Mr Khan could not have been of immense help to North Korea nuclear weapons programme because his laboratory had engaged in uranium enrichment, and not involved in the other steps needed to make a nuclear bomb such as conversion of uranium into gas and development of the trigger mechanism and delivery systems.

“So, if North Korea has made a bomb...Dr. A.Q. Khan’s part is only enriching the uranium to weapons grade. He does not know about making the bomb, he does not know about the trigger mechanism, he does not know about the delivery system,” he said.

For those things, he said, the North Koreans “must have got it themselves or from somewhere else and not from Pakistan”.

Asked to comment on reports that Pakistan had told Japanese government officials that Mr Khan gave about 20 centrifuges to North Korea, Gen Musharraf said: “Yes, he passed centrifuges — parts and complete. I do not exactly remember the number.”

Gen Musharraf said he was unsure whether Mr Khan had provided UF6 gas, which is passed through the centrifuges to enrich uranium, to North Korea, as reported by some international media.

However, he called it immaterial since only one or two cylinders of UF6 would be insufficient for a nuclear programme. He said it was immaterial whether Mr Khan visited North Korea 10, 20 or even 30 times since he could provide only limited help or information.

“Again, if A.Q. Khan had given UF6 gas, some cylinders, it is not enough. It needs tons and tons of UF6 gas to enrich uranium, to go through thousands of centrifuges to be able to produce 1 kilogram of enriched uranium. So, even if he has provided some gas, it is immaterial. They need so much more,” he said.

Gen Musharraf said Mr Khan knew practically nothing about the trigger mechanism for a nuclear bomb, without which enriched uranium would be merely “sort of a mass” lying around.

He rejected media reports that Mr Khan had bartered uranium enrichment secrets for North Korean help in Pakistan’s programme to develop the medium-range Ghauri missile that is believed to be an improved version of North Korea’s Rodong missile.

He said Pakistan had cooperated with North Korea in the production of conventional weapons when it developed the Anza missile and received artillery equipment. But there was never any bilateral cooperation in the “strategic”, or nuclear field, he said.

“No, no, that did not happen at all. We had a certain relationship with North Korea regarding conventional weapons. We got some artillery pieces from North Korea, once upon a time, many years ago. So, this was the relationship with North Korea.”

“We paid for each and every item that we got from North Korea. There was no exchange of knowledge or equipment. That is absolutely wrong,” he said regarding the allegations of a technology swap involving nuclear and missile technology and knowledge.

Gen Musharraf said Pakistan had severed its defence cooperation with North Korea in the production of conventional weapons.

Gen Musharraf also confirmed that Mr Khan made three trips to Mali between 1998, 2000, to meet Libyan officials interested in procuring uranium technology from Pakistan.

“Yes, indeed that is what he was doing,” Gen Musharraf said when asked to comment the trips Mr Khan made there.

The president said that like all the other nuclear powers, Pakistan bought from the nuclear underground market for its programme, but the country was now completely self-sufficient in the nuclear and missile technology.

He said that even the United States and Soviet Union developed their nuclear programmes “through underground means” by getting nuclear technology from the black market, from Germans and by covertly getting information about each others’ programmes.—Online