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China and Pakistan: A Nuclear Power’s Act of Proliferation

13 November 2009 No Comment

From the Washington Post by Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick.

Pakistan’s “Father” of the Nuclear Bomb, A.Q. Khan (full name is Abdul Qadeer Khan) reportedly has been
complaining “to friends that his movements and contacts are being unjustly controlled by the government, whose bidding he did — providing a potential motive for his disclosures.”

Read full report. Accounts by controversial scientist assert China gave Pakistan enough enriched uranium in ’82 to make 2 bombs

In 1982, a Pakistani military C-130 left the western Chinese city of Urumqi with a highly unusual cargo: enough weapons-grade uranium for two atomic bombs, according to accounts written by the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, and provided to The Washington Post.

The uranium transfer in five stainless-steel boxes was part of a broad-ranging, secret nuclear deal approved years earlier by Mao Zedong and Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto that culminated in an exceptional, deliberate act of proliferation by a nuclear power, according to the accounts by Khan, who is under house arrest in Pakistan.

U.S. officials say they have known about the transfer for decades and once privately confronted the Chinese — who denied it — but have never raised the issue in public or sought to impose direct sanctions on China for it. President Obama, who said in April that “the world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons,” plans to discuss nuclear proliferation issues while visiting Beijing on Tuesday.

According to Khan, the uranium cargo came with a blueprint for a simple weapon that China had already tested, supplying a virtual do-it-yourself kit that significantly speeded Pakistan’s bomb effort. The transfer also started a chain of proliferation: U.S. officials worry that Khan later shared related Chinese design information with Iran; in 2003, Libya confirmed obtaining it from Khan’s clandestine network.

China’s refusal to acknowledge the transfer and the unwillingness of the United States to confront the Chinese publicly demonstrate how difficult it is to counter nuclear proliferation. Although U.S. officials say China is now much more attuned to proliferation dangers, it has demonstrated less enthusiasm than the United States for imposing sanctions on Iran over its nuclear efforts, a position Obama wants to discuss.

Although Chinese officials have for a quarter-century denied helping any nation attain a nuclear capability, current and former U.S. officials say Khan’s accounts confirm the U.S. intelligence community’s long-held conclusion that China provided such assistance.

“Upon my personal request, the Chinese Minister . . . had gifted us 50 kg [kilograms] of weapon-grade enriched uranium, enough for two weapons,” Khan wrote in a previously undisclosed 11-page narrative of the Pakistani bomb program that he prepared after his January 2004 detention for unauthorized nuclear commerce.