Pakistan in touch with IAEA: FO

Published March 16, 2004

ISLAMABAD, March 15: Pakistan has been maintaining contact with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and shall continue to stay in touch with the agency as the country is also a member of its board of governors on the nuclear proliferation issue.

Replying to questions concerning the investigations that have been going on for about three months into allegations of nuclear proliferation by several top scientists in the state-owned Kahuta (nuclear) Research Laboratories (KRL), Foreign Office spokesman Masood Khan said at his weekly press briefing that he did not know how long the investigations would take to complete.

He gave no straight reply when asked whether Pakistan would comply with the reported request of the IAEA to let it collect some samples of the uranium enrichment process from the KRL to determine the charge against Iran that with clandestine Pakistani assistance, it was able to engage in making its own nuclear weapons contrary to the declaration given by Tehran to the IAEA.

However, he emphasized that Pakistan, which is a member of the IAEA's board of governors, had maintained contact with the UN nuclear watchdog in the past and continued to remain in touch and shall extend cooperation to the IAEA.

KASHMIR ISSUE: The spokesman in his written opening remarks on Sunday's statement by India's External Affairs Ministry pertaining to some parts of President Pervez Musharraf's address to New Delhi's India Today Conclave last weekend, described it as 'regrettable'.

He, however, reaffirmed that "the need for peaceful resolution of this dispute (J&K dispute) in accordance with legitimate Kashmiri aspirations is self-evident".

The spokesman stated that the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) "has made erroneous attributions to the president regarding incidents in IHK". He, however, assured: "Pakistan stands committed to pursuing the process initiated by President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee on January 6, 2004", and persevering in the cause of peace and stability in South Asia.

Islamabad looks forward to a meaningful and sustained engagement on all issues on the composite dialogue agenda in accordance with the agreed schedule, he added.

Mr Masood Khan said that notwithstanding the known positions of both Pakistan and India on the Kashmir dispute, during the dialogue they would "explore all avenues to look for a common ground, a common denominator" acceptable to both the countries and the Kashmiri people.

He hoped that this search by the two sides would be demonstrated by the foreign secretaries when they would meet some time in May/June this year for the first time since the agreement was reached on the composite dialogue.

About the forthcoming talks here on Wednesday and Thursday during the scheduled visit of US Secretary of State Colin Powell, he said the two sides would consider a number of issues such as nuclear non-proliferation, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

The spokesman rejected any suggestion of "arm-twisting" by the United States in Mr Powell's talks here and asserted the two countries had "a very strong and vibrant relationship" which was expected to develop further.

During his two-day stay here, Mr Powell would call on the president and the prime minister and hold talks with Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri and would share thoughts on measures for nuclear non-proliferation.

The Pakistani and American government leaders, he said, would also consider how to pursue war on terrorism in a coordinated manner. As allies in the Afghanistan war, both sides regarded Afghanistan's security and reconstruction as matter of priority.

The spokesman rejected any suggestion that during their operation 'Mountain Storm', the American forces might cross over into Pakistan although the Pakistan forces, he added, would launch an operation of their own on this side of the frontier, if needed.

The spokesman said India had not responded till now to President Musharraf's proposal to cut down the strength of Pakistan army by 50,000 men. He emphasized that the proposed reduction in defence expenditure would have to be proportionate.

The spokesman said he was unable to comment as of now, on media speculations that Indian prime minister might be invited to watch one of the cricket matches in Pakistan together with the president.

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