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Pakistani leader says nukes will be safe
( 2004-01-25 09:51) (Agencies)

Pakistan's president said Saturday that airtight military control over his country's nuclear weapons will keep them safe from terrorists even if something happens to him.

Pervez Musharraf, who endured two assassination attempts in the past month, told The Associated Press that "as long as the military of Pakistan remains, nothing can go wrong."

Speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, Musharraf also revealed details of how the development of Pakistan's secret nuclear program gave wide latitude to scientists, possibly allowing them to sell nuclear secrets "for personal gain."

The president told reporters that Pakistan is investigating the possibility that government officials knew about leaks of technology abroad. Agents also are checking bank accounts of nine scientists and administrators detained on suspicion of selling information to Iran and elsewhere, an Interior Minister in Pakistan said Saturday.

"We will sort out everyone who is involved," Musharraf said.

He said Pakistan's covert program to obtain nuclear weaponry started about 30 years ago, after neighboring India conducted nuclear tests, and that scientists were given "freedom of action" to develop the technology.

"Covert meant scientists moved around with full autonomy in a secretive manner," he said, adding that the program "could succeed only if there was total autonomy and nobody knew. That is how it continued."

"Now, if there was some individual or individuals, unscrupulous, if they were for personal gain selling national assets ... it was possible because it was not open, it was not under strategic check and controls. That is why it was possible," he added.

For years Pakistan rejected reports that its scientists might have been involved in proliferation and provided technology to North Korea, Iran, Libya and Iraq.

The country started hedging in December, however, and Musharraf said investigations began after Iran disclosed to the U.N. inspection agency the names of people who provided them with nuclear technology and they included Pakistani scientists.

"I accept that," he said, adding that he would like to see European countries and scientists investigated for their involvement, as well.

Musharraf, Pakistan's top general who seized power in a bloodless 1999 coup, said that only the European countries had the sophisticated metallurgy necessary to produce key elements for nuclear weapons.

"There are European countries involved in the refining and producing. It is high-class metallurgy. Where is it available? In Europe. So why is no one talking about it?" he said.

Musharraf said he set up the National Command Authority, which he chairs, to oversee the nuclear program after he came to power. He said there was a system of checks and "we have left no stone unturned to protect our assets."

He rejected suggestions that elements of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency may have acted on their own in the past, sending nuclear secrets abroad without the knowledge of the political leadership. He said the agency was under firm control and he had twice changed the agency chief. "Let me assure you that the ISI does exactly what the government wants them to do," he said.

Musharraf told AP after the meeting that Pakistan's nuclear weapons would be protected even if he was killed. "The security of all of this is a military responsibility. As long as the military of Pakistan remains, nothing can go wrong."

He told reporters Friday there were multiple layers of security and not even he had free access to all the equipment and information about the program. "I don't think anyone knows where those weapons are. Nobody knows. Even the United States doesn't know where they are. There is no attack possible on our nuclear assets."

Musharraf blamed al-Qaeda for the attacks on his life. He said al-Qaeda was still able to carry out bombings and limited attacks but as a whole was "on the run and in hiding" with its leaders unable to communicate with each other.

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