Friday, March 11, 2005

Pakistan revelation causes uproar

Aljazeera - Pakistan's political opposition has stormed out of parliament over government statements that nuclear pioneer Abdul Qadeer Khan provided Iran with centrifuges, causing a storm of controversy.

Washington thinks the technology has enabled Iran to enrich uranium to a level required for making nuclear weapons, despite Tehran's insistence that its nuclear program is for peaceful means only.

Opposition lawmakers were angered over the parliament chairman's refusal to hold a debate on the statements made on Thursday by Information Minister Sheikh Rashid, which they said were meant to curry favor with Washington.

"Once again Pakistani leadership is playing in the hand of the United States to serve its sinister motives against Iran," said opposition lawmaker Liaquat Baloch, a leader with the Islamic party alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal.

"This is part of a conspiracy to defame national heroes and our scientists."

Baloch demanded the government stop making "reckless" statements and tell lawmakers when the centrifuges were handed over and who was in control of the military and the government in Pakistan at that time.

Rashid said on Thursday that Khan, who fell from grace after he publicly confessed early last year that he passed nuclear secrets to other countries, had passed the centrifuges along to Iran through the black market. He insisted the government was in no way involved.

Khan admitted to leaking nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya after a government investigation into nuclear proliferation.

The investigation was launched in November 2003 after the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency(IAEA), the UN's nuclear watchdog, informed Pakistan about the leak.

IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said earlier that the agency was "well aware that designs and components were provided by the AQ Khan network to Iran". She declined to comment further.

Khan was later pardoned by President Pervez Musharraf, but he has been living under virtual house arrest in Islamabad.