Nuclear fuel memos expose wary dance with Pakistan
Indeed, the consul general in Peshawar wrote in 2008 that she believed that some members of the Haqqani network - one of the most lethal groups attacking American and Afghan soldiers - had left North Waziristan to escape drone strikes. Some family members, she wrote, relocated south of Peshawar; others lived in Rawalpindi, where senior Pakistani military officials also live.
In one cable, Ms. Patterson, a veteran diplomat who left Islamabad in October after a three-year stint as ambassador, said more money and military assistance would not be persuasive. "There is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced assistance levels in any field as sufficient compensation for abandoning support for these groups, which it sees as an important part of its national security apparatus against India."
Articles in this series will examine American diplomatic cables as a window on relations with the rest of the world in an age of war and terrorism.
An Internet video that showed men in Pakistani military uniforms executing six young men in civilian clothes.
In a rare tone of dissent with Washington, she said Pakistan would only dig in deeper if America continued to improve ties with India, which she said "feeds Pakistani establishment paranoia and pushes them closer to both Afghan and Kashmir focused terrorist groups."
The groups Ms. Patterson referred to were almost certainly the Haqqani network of the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a group financed by Pakistan in the 1990s to fight India in Kashmir that is accused of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.
The highly enriched uranium that Ms. Patterson wanted removed from the research reactor came from the United States in the mid-1960s. In those days, under the Atoms for Peace program, little thought was given to proliferation, and Pakistan seemed too poor and backward to join the nuclear race.
But by May 2009, all that had changed, and her terse cable to the State and Defense Departments, among others, touched every nerve in the fraught relationship: mutual mistrust, the safety of the world's fastest-growing nuclear arsenal, broken promises and a pervasive fear that any talk about Pakistan's vulnerability would end whatever cooperation existed.
The reactor had been converted to use low-enriched uranium, well below bomb grade, in 1990, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, or I.A.E.A. But the bomb-grade uranium had never been returned to the United States and remains in storage nearby. Ms. Patterson's cable noted that Pakistan had "agreed in principle to the fuel removal in 2007."
But time and again the Pakistanis balked, and she reported that an interagency group within the Pakistani government had decided to cancel a visit by American technical experts to get the fuel out of the country. She concluded that "it is clear that the negative media attention has begun to hamper U.S. efforts to improve Pakistan's nuclear security and nonproliferation practices."
Any progress, she suggested, would have to await a "more conducive" political climate.
On Monday, Pakistan's Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement confirming that "the US suggestion to have the fuel transferred was plainly refused by Pakistan." It said that the United States had provided the fuel but did not mention that, under the terms of such transfers, the United States retained the right to have the spent fuel returned.
The ambassador's comments help explain why Mr. Obama and his aides have expressed confidence in Pakistan's nuclear security when asked in public. But at the beginning of the administration's review of its Afghanistan and Pakistan strategy, a highly classified intelligence report delivered to Mr. Obama said that while Pakistan's weapons were well secured, there was deep, continuing concern about "insider access," meaning elements in the military or intelligence services.
In fact, Ms. Patterson, in a Feb. 4, 2009, cable, wrote that "our major concern is not having an Islamic militant steal an entire weapon but rather the chance someone working in GOP [government of Pakistan] facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon."
Mr. Obama's review concluded by determining that there were two "vital" American interests in the region. One was defeating Al Qaeda. The second, not previously reported, was making sure terrorists could never gain access to Pakistan's nuclear program. That goal was classified, to keep from angering Islamabad.
Asked about the status of the fuel at the research reactor, Damien LaVera, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration of the Energy Department, said, "The United States supplied Pakistan with fuel for a research reactor decades ago for the purpose of producing medical isotopes and scientific research." Implicitly acknowledging that the material remains there, Mr. LaVera said "the fuel is under I.A.E.A. safeguards and has not been part of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program."