Pakistan Tries To Allay Fears About Nuke Safety

Amid international concerns that terrorists might seize Pakistan's nuclear materials, and amid Pakistani concerns that the U.S. might seize them, Islamabad has issued a strong statement declaring that the weapons are safe.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Pakistan is defending the security of its nuclear arms program. Many, including the U.S., have worried that it is vulnerable. Today, Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gillani sought to calm those fears and to reprimand those who question Pakistan's ability to safeguard the arsenal.

NPR's Julie McCarthy tells us more.

JULIE MCCARTHY: Prime Minister Gillani was addressing the National Command Authority, which controls Pakistan's strategic nuclear forces. He said his country will pursue the policy of credible minimal deterrence as a responsible nuclear state. We will never pursue aggressive nuclear posturing or misadventure, he said.

But what worries capitals in the West and the East is that Islamist militants would try to steal a nuclear weapon in transit, or insert sympathizers into nuclear laboratories or fuel reprocessing plants.

Gillani said media reports had speculated on both the possibility of sabotage and the existence of foreign plans to take over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. He said any such designs would be thwarted by the armed forces of the country.

But the prime minister also acknowledged that the covert U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden that Pakistan's armed forces missed and the brazen attack on the Mehran naval base in Karachi had raised concerns about the safety and security of Pakistan's strategic assets.

Pakistani and U.S. officials have said Pakistan does have a robust, multi-layered command and control system. The prime minister added that the propaganda onslaught against Pakistan would not deter it from proceeding with its nuclear program, which is reportedly growing faster than any other.

For most Pakistanis, their nuclear scientists are heroes who restored parity with their arch-rival India and catapulted Pakistan into the world's elite club of nuclear powers.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.

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