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US seeks direct access to Pakistan's N-arsenal

Source: PTI
April 14, 2008 12:43 IST
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Amid Western concerns about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear aresenal, the United States has sought direct access to the body controlling the country's nuclear assets for an American official to be posted at its embassy in Islamabad.

The US State Department sent a proposal to the Pakistan government after a set of 11 demands dispatched earlier by Washington to Islamabad regarding the deployment of American military personnel in the country, were refused by Pakistani authorities.

The latest request from Washington had suggested that the official who would be permanently posted in the US embassy in Islamabad to deal with nuclear issues should have direct access to the National Command Authority Secretariat, The News reported on Monday.

The earlier request had wanted American citizens sent by the US government to be treated above Pakistan's national law.

Leading security analyst Shireen Mazari, the head of the Institute of Strategic Studies, said this latest move by the US was "perhaps the most dangerous effort at intruding into Pakistan's sensitive areas in the ongoing effort to gain direct access to nuclear-strategic matters."

The new request has come at a time when senior US officials who recently visited Pakistan had expressed satisfaction over the safety and security of Pakistan's nuclear assets, the report said.

US embassy spokesperson Elizabeth Colton did not reject the US proposal outright, but told The News: "We are in touch with all elements of the Pakistan government all the time. But we do not publish or discuss details of our diplomatic discussions and assignments."

Mazari said the new proposal was made through verbal contact via an assistant secretary-level official.

"This proposal, again, was not routed through either the foreign or defence ministries, but a direct approach was made to the NCA. Apparently, so far Pakistan has not given any response but it would be quite appropriate to be concerned about such a US move, especially since transparency is not available at our end on such issues," she said.

Defence analyst Lt Gen (retired) Talat Masood said this was an "outright interference" in Pakistan's affairs.

"On what basis does the US want direct access to the NCA? Does the US have any particular fears or apprehensions?The US laws do not allow any transfer of nuclear technology or assets to Pakistan, so why should there be any such officer in the US embassy in Islamabad?" he asked.

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