WASHINGTON, Feb 9: The United States warned Pakistan on Monday that it believed Dr A.Q. Khan could indulge in further proliferation activities and said it would remain engaged with Islamabad over the decision to release the nuclear scientist.

At a regular briefing in Washington, State Department’s deputy spokesman Robert Wood said that senior US officials attending an international conference in Munich, Germany, had also discussed the issue with Pakistan’s foreign minister.

US Vice-President Joe Biden and President Obama’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Richard Holbrooke both attended the Munich conference and it’s believed that at least one of them discussed the issue with the foreign minister.

“We believe he remains a potential proliferation risk,” said the State Department official.

A journalist asked spokesman Wood if he would compare releasing Dr Khan to releasing Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden.

“Well, I don’t like to make comparisons here from the podium, but let me just say A.Q. Khan’s track record has been one of great concern to us and a number of other countries around the world,” said Mr Wood.

“And we’re going to do what we can to try to make sure that the types of activities that have been undertaken in the past don’t continue. And we’re in a dialogue with the Pakistani government about A.Q. Khan, and we remain concerned about the potential that he is for further proliferation.”

The United States, he said, remained “very disappointed with the court’s decision to release Dr Khan and would continue to follow this issue very closely”.

Asked if it was disturbing for the US that the Pakistanis did not notify them in advance, Mr Wood said: “Look, this is a court decision that was taken. We have to deal with that fact. We’ve expressed that concern to the government and we’ll continue to follow it.”

The spokesman said that in its dialogue with Pakistan, the US would emphasise the point that Dr Khan remained a potential proliferation risk, not just to the United States, but to other countries as well.

“I would suspect that you’ll see other countries also expressing their concern about the court decision,” he added. The Pakistanis, he said, were aware of “our serious” concern about the matter.

Independent courts

Responding to another journalist who questioned how independent the Pakistani courts were, Mr Wood said: “Pakistan has a constitution. It has an independent judiciary.”

“It does?” asked the journalist. “As far as I know, it does, yes,” said Mr Wood.

“You don’t see that there is any government hand in this court order at all?” he was asked.

“Look, we can only go by what we were told,” said Mr Wood. “And the court made a decision. And we expressed our concern. We will continue to express our concern and go from there.”

Responding to another question, Mr Wood said the court’s decision did not affect the US decision last month to impose new sanctions on Dr Khan and his network.

“What’s important for us is that non-proliferation activities remain firm and solid. We have to do what we can to make sure that weapons of mass destruction and other types of weapons that can do harm are not able to proliferate.”

“Do you think Pakistan is trying to blackmail or trying to send some kind of message to Washington?” Mr Wood was asked.

“I don’t think the government of Pakistan is trying to blackmail us,” he said. “They know our concern about A.Q. Khan.”