U.S. says Pakistan gave nuclear gear to N. Korea

Officials think Islamabad got missiles, gave supplies for making atomic fuel

October 18, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - American intelligence officials have concluded that Pakistan, a vital ally since last year's terrorist attacks, was a major supplier of critical equipment for North Korea's newly revealed clandestine nuclear weapons program, current and former senior American officials said yesterday.

The equipment, which might include gas centrifuges used to create weapons-grade uranium, appears to have been part of a barter deal beginning in the late 1990s in which North Korea supplied Pakistan with missiles it could use to counter India's nuclear arsenal, the officials said.

"What you have here," said one official familiar with the intelligence, "is a perfect meeting of interests - the North had what the Pakistanis needed, and the Pakistanis had a way for Kim Jong Il to restart a nuclear program we had stopped."

The White House said last night that it would not discuss Pakistan's role or any other intelligence information.

Nor would senior administration officials who briefed reporters yesterday discuss exactly what intelligence they showed to North Korean officials two weeks ago, prompting the North's declaration that it had secretly started a program to enrich uranium in violation of its past commitments.

A spokesman for the Pakistan Embassy said it was "absolutely incorrect" to accuse Pakistan of providing nuclear weapons technology to North Korea.

"Pakistan has a very responsible and tight nuclear program," the spokesman, Asad Hayauddin, said. "We have never had an accident or leak or any export of fissile material or nuclear technology or knowledge."

The suspected deal between Pakistan and North Korea underscores the enormous diplomatic complexity of the administration's task in trying to disarm North Korea.

In Beijing, two American diplomats, James A. Kelly and John R. Bolton, pressed Chinese officials to use all their diplomatic and economic leverage to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program.

The subject is expected to dominate a meeting next week between President Bush - who a spokesman said yesterday "believes this is troubling and sobering news" - and President Jiang Zemin of China, at Bush's ranch in Texas.

U.S. officials said their suspicions about North Korea's new nuclear program came together only this summer. Bush fully briefed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan on those suspicions when the two met in New York in September, according to Japanese and American officials. But it is unclear how strongly Koizumi raised the issue later with Kim Jong Il during his visit to North Korea.

While the action the United States would seek against North Korea was still being debated, one senior official said Bush and his aides would ask Russia and China to exercise some "direct leverage" against North Korea by restricting trade with it.

The officials would not discuss the nature of their intelligence, but clearly much of the administration's evidence centered on Pakistan.

In 1998, Pakistan tested its version of a North Korean-designed missile, the Nodong, which has a range of more than 700 miles. Clinton administration officials say they could not figure out how Pakistan, virtually broke at the time, could afford the purchases.

The CIA suspected it knew the answer: Pakistan's nuclear arsenal employs weapons made of highly enriched uranium. That was of interest to North Korea, officials say, because the process of enriching uranium can be conducted underground, without leaving traces that U.S. spy satellites could detect.

Exactly when North Korea received equipment from Pakistan is still unclear. But American officials estimated that North Korea's highly enriched uranium project started around 1997 or 1998 - roughly the same time Pakistan tested missiles it received from North Korea.

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