N-assets in foolproof custody: Pak.

ISLAMABAD, NOV. 1. Close on the heels of the International Atomic Energy Agency's counsel that India and Pakistan review their nuclear safety norms, the Pakistan Foreign Minister, Mr. Abdul Sattar, today said Pakistan's strategic assets were under `foolproof custodial control.'

Mr. Sattar, who made a sudden appearance at the regular briefing, read out a carefully worded statement to set `at rest' doubts and speculation in the international media about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear assets.

He reiterated Islamabad's commitment to the safety of the nuclear assets. His reference was clearly to a recent article in the New Yorker magazine. (The magazine had reported that the U.S. was training with Israeli commandos to remove Pakistan's nuclear warheads to safety in case there was a coup against the President, Gen. Pervez Musharraf).

The issue had also figured in the discussions between Gen. Musharraf and the U.S. Secretary of State, Gen. Colin Powell, in Islamabad. Gen. Powell had offered to allow Pakistani personnel in-charge of nuclear safety to visit the U.S. to see how it was safeguarding its nuclear arsenal.

A few days ago, Gen. Musharraf had presided over a meeting of the Nuclear Command Authority to signal to the rest of the world that his Government was in total command of the situation and there was no way the nuclear assets could fall into ``wrong hands.''

Mr. Sattar claimed that Islamabad had an impeccable record of custodial safety and security. ``The credit goes to the Armed Forces which are the guardians of Pakistan's strategic assets. Similarly, the Pakistan Energy Commission has an unabashed record of safety and security of nuclear plants and other civilian projects which are under safeguards and subject to periodic inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.''

Islamabad had constantly maintained, developed and upgraded the command and control systems and custodial security procedures. And the requisite financial and personnel resources were in order, to devise and apply iron-clad measures to deal with all contingencies.

Mr. Sattar said safe custody of nuclear assets had been ensured. A strategic force command had been established for each of the three armed services and clear chains of responsibility prescribed and enforced to ensure that strategic weapons were not deployed without due authorisation.

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