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No intention of seizing Pak's nuclear weapons: US

By Lalit K Jha
November 10, 2009 10:37 IST
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The United States, on Tuesday, denied reports that it has plans to seize Pakistan's nuclear weapons, saying it has confidence on the ability of Islamabad to provide adequate security for their atomic arsenal.

"The US has no intention of seizing Pakistani nuclear weapons or material," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told media-persons at his daily news briefing.

Noting that the United States sees Pakistan as a key ally in war on terror and to foster regional stability, Kelly said: "We are working very closely with Pakistan on a number of important initiatives regarding regional security." Acknowledging that the US does provide them with aid, he said, "As the Secretary (of State) has said, we have confidence in the ability of Pakistani Government to provide adequate security for their nuclear programmes and materials." "We have a number of security assistance initiatives that are focused on strengthening counterinsurgency capacities to foster stability," Kelly said.

In an article published in the latest issue of The New Yorker, Pulitzer Prize winner journalist Seymour M Hersh, both current and former US officials said in interviews that the Obama Administration has been negotiating highly sensitive understandings with the Pakistani military. "These would allow specially trained American units to provide added security for the Pakistani arsenal in case of a crisis," Hersh said.

"At the same time, the Pakistani military would be given money to equip and train Pakistani soldiers and to improve their housing and facilities—goals that General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the chief of the Pakistan Army, has long desired," Hersh reported in his article titled Defending The Arsenal. In June, Congress approved a USD 400 million request for what the Administration called the Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund, providing immediate assistance to the Pakistan Army for equipment, training, and "renovation and construction".

The secrecy surrounding the understandings was important because there is growing antipathy toward America in Pakistan, as well as a history of distrust. "Many Pakistanis believe that America's true goal is not to keep their weapons safe but to diminish or destroy the Pakistani nuclear complex," he said. The nuclear arsenal, he noted, is a source of great pride among Pakistanis, who view the weapons as symbols of their nation's status and as an essential deterrent against an attack by India.

While there is no official quote in the article, Hersh says the consultation on nuclear security between Washington and Islamabad intensified after the announcement in March of President Barack Obama's so-called Af-Pak policy, which called upon the Pakistan Army to take more aggressive action against Taliban enclaves inside Pakistan.

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Lalit K Jha in Washington
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