The U.S. has assured Pakistan it has no intention of seizing Pakistan’s nuclear weapons or material, saying it has confidence in Islamabad’s ability to provide adequate security to its nuclear programmes.
“The U.S. has no intention of seizing Pakistani nuclear weapons or material,” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters on Monday when asked to comment on a U.S. magazine report that the Obama administration wants Pakistan to let Washington help secure its weapons in a crisis with an added goal of reassuring India.
“We see Pakistan as a key ally in our common effort to fight violent extremists and to foster regional stability,” he said. “We’re working very closely with Pakistan on a number of important initiatives regarding regional security.
“And as the Secretary (of State Hillary Clinton) has said, we have confidence in the ability of the Pakistani government to provide adequate security for their nuclear programmes and materials.”
An article published online and in the November 16 issue of The New Yorker states that Washington has serious fears about Pakistan’s arsenal and has a covert team ready to fly to Pakistan at short notice.
The article, written by veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, reports that the Obama administration has been working on “highly sensitive understandings” with Pakistan’s military that would let the U.S. military to provide “added security for the Pakistani arsenal in case of a crisis”.
One goal of the proposed agreements would be to reassure India, Mr. Hersh told CNN. U.S. officials, he said, hope securing Pakistani bombs will convince India to pull troops off the Pakistani frontier, allowing Pakistan to turn more of its military’s attention toward battling al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters along its northwestern border with Afghanistan — where U.S. troops have been battling the Taliban since 2001.
“It’s all part of the broad strategic scheme,” Mr. Hersh said. But the plan has had unintended consequences in Pakistan, “one of which is they hate our guts”, he said.
Pakistan remains mistrustful of the U.S., fearing its nuclear secrets will fall into Indian hands, and “there’s an enormous discrepancy between what they say and what they agree to do”, Mr. Hersh said.
The New Yorker also reported that a “highly classified” emergency response team was activated within the past few months in response to a report that a Pakistani nuclear component had “gone astray.”
The team was already in Dubai by the time the report turned out to be a false alarm, Mr. Hersh’s article states, citing an unnamed Pentagon consultant.
In November 2001, another of his articles on Pakistan’s nuclear programme stirred a similar controversy, CNN said.
Mr. Hersh reported at that time that the U.S. was making plans to seize or disable Pakistani nuclear weapons to prevent them from falling into the hands of Islamic extremists. That report was met with widespread denials as well.
But Mr. Hersh said on Sunday there is an “enormous difference” between what the Obama administration is trying to do and what was being considered before.
“They’re now saying, ‘We’re going to help you’,” he told CNN. In addition, he said, the current U.S. plans focus not on removing warheads, but on separating them from the trigger mechanisms used to set them off.