Nu­clear fuel memos ex­pose wary dance with Pak­istan

The Pak Banker - - Editorial5 - Jane Perlez

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."

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