ISLAMABAD, Jan 9: Pakistan on Wednesday hit back at IAEA chief’s remarks about the safety of country’s nuclear arsenal and said the country’s strategic assets were secure and the head of the UN atomic watchdog “ought to remain within the parameters of his mandate”.

“His remarks ignore the fact that the strategic assets of Pakistan are fully secure and under multi-layered safeguards and controls exercised by the National Command Authority,” Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said at his weekly press briefing. International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei was quoted by pan-Arab Daily Al Hayat as saying in an interview: “I fear that chaos... or an extremist regime could take root in that country which has 30 to 40 warheads.”

The spokesman said Pakistan was a responsible nuclear weapon state. “Our nuclear weapons are as secure as that of any other nuclear weapon state. We, therefore, believe that statements expressing concerns about their safety and security are unwarranted and irresponsible.”

He said that the IAEA chief had been briefed on the structure and control mechanisms put in place to ensure complete safety of the nuclear assets.

Pakistan has approached the IAEA to protest against ElBaradei’s remarks, though it believes that the statement will have no implications for the country.

“Our charge de’ affairs spoke with the chief of staff of ElBaradei in Vienna,” Mr Sadiq said, adding that Pakistan attached great importance to the IAEA and had extended cooperation and assistance to the agency on many important issues towards the fulfilment of its mandate.

“Additionally, our civilian nuclear programme is under IAEA safeguards and we have always fully complied with its obligations.”

When asked about the concerns being expressed by US presidential candidates on Pakistan’s nuclear programme, the spokesman said it was pertinent to note that no government had made such statements because they were aware of the situation. “The statements by politicians and academicians are just musings.”

The spokesman said that a US Congress delegation met General Kidwai at the Strategic Plan Division (SPD) and was briefed on the safety of nuclear assets. He, however, denied that a meeting between Senator Joe Lieberman and the SPD chief had taken place as the senator claimed.

PAKISTAN-US TIES: Mr Sadiq said that the outcome of the US presidential elections would not affect relations between two countries.

“It is important not only for the two countries but also for maintaining peace and stability in the whole region. This relationship is based on the national interest of the two countries and will continue in the interest of two countries,” he remarked.

Defending Pakistan’s support for the US-led war on terror and assistance the country is getting from western countries, the spokesman said: “Participation in war on terror is in our own interest and we live in an interdependent world and need help and assistance from other countries. Getting help from the international community does not change the fact that the war on terror is in our own national interest.”

He reiterated the government’s commitment to holding free, fair and transparent elections scheduled for February 18.

Commenting on the progress on Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project, the spokesman said that negotiations were in an advanced stage.

However, he said that a summit-level meeting between President Musharraf and his Iranian counterpart for signing the agreement had not been planned yet.