U.S. confirms P-bomb plans
New Delhi, July 25:
The White House has confirmed that Pakistan is building a powerful new reactor to produce plutonium. Spokesperson Tony Snow told journalists in response to the Washington Post report: “We have known of these plans for some time. Pakistan is not a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, nor is India. But on the other hand we discourage military use of this facility.”
Mr Snow opted for the familiar US line in equating India and Pakistan, this time on the nuclear issue. He said that the US was supporting the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty, and “we continue to discourage the expansion and modernisation of the nuclear weapons programmes, both of India and Pakistan.”
He said that the effort was to ensure that all States that produce fissile material should observe a voluntary production moratorium as the United States has “for a very long time.” He refused to comment, however, about the concerns voiced by some US legislators about the sale of F-16s to Pakistan.
The Washington Post report, despite efforts by the Indian government to underplay it at different levels here, has generated a strong reaction among US legislators who have attacked the Bush administration for withholding information from Congress at a time when it was poised to consider the Bills on the India-US nuclear deal.
The co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian-Americans, Mr Gary Ackerman, said that the Bush administration should immediately stop the F-16 sales to Pakistan as this, along with the plutonium reactor, equals a “catastrophe.” He said: “Based on history and strategic analysis, there is every reason to believe that these F-16s will be drafted for use as nuclear weapons delivery vehicles and that they will be picked apart by potential adversaries to answer questions about our aviation capabilities. Help stop a catastrophe before it happens... and stop the sale of F-16s to Pakistan.”
Democratic Congressman Edward Markey came out hard against the Bush administration. “Instead of doing everything possible to stop this vicious cycle, the Bush administration is throwing fuel on
the fire. If either India or Pakistan starts increasing its nuclear arsenal, the other side will respond in kind; and the Bush administration’s proposed nuclear deal with India is making that much more likely,” he said.
The Washington Post had reported that Pakistan was building an over 1,000MW plutonium production nuclear reactor at its Khushab nuclear site, capable of producing 40-50 nuclear weapons.
The White House confirmation has completely belied claims by “sources” in the Indian government that ha d appeared in select Indian newspapers on Tuesday morning claiming that the Post report on the plutonium reactor was planted by the non-proliferation lobby in the United States and was not correct.
Instead, the Bush administration has been drawn into the direct line of fire by those opposed to the nuclear deal in the US for hiding information from the US Congress at this crucial juncture. Government spin doctors were brought out to dissuade the media from taking notice of the report by trying to underplay the news of the reactor being built by Pakistan.
In the process, the government forgot to express concern about Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Strategic experts, however, have voiced their apprehension and pointed out to this newspaper that the news has “basically confirmed what we have been saying all along, that Pakistan is being left free to develop its nuclear programme while India is being brought under US control by our own Prime Minister.”
Voices are again being raised about the decision of the government to shut down the Cirus research reactor as part of the agreement with the US. The news about the expanding Pakistani nuclear arsenal was also met with deep concern in Washington from the non-proliferation lobby as well, as it has come on the heels of a stepped-up campaign by nuclear experts to urge the US Congress to exercise more restraint (than already provided for in the bills under consideration) on India.
The US defence department’s top non-proliferation official during the first Bush administration, Mr Henry D. Sokolski, is quoted as expressing surprise at the way that news of Pakistan’s reactor came to be known. “What is baffling is that this information, which was surely information that our own intelligence agencies had, was kept from the Congress. We lack imagination if we think this is no big deal,” he is quoted as saying.