Pakistan Attempts to Put A.Q. Khan Case in Past In a briefing at the Pakistani embassy in Washington on Monday, an unnamed official told reporters that it was "time to put the whole sordid A.Q. Khan business behind us."
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Pakistan Attempts to Put A.Q. Khan Case in Past

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Pakistan Attempts to Put A.Q. Khan Case in Past

Pakistan Attempts to Put A.Q. Khan Case in Past

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A top Pakistani military official showed up in Washington yesterday with this message: We have laid to rest the ghost of the A.Q. Khan saga. A.Q. Khan is the Pakistani scientist who ran a global nuclear proliferation network until 2003.

In an unusual briefing with reporters, this Pakistani official argued that that network has now been completely uprooted and the U.S. should stop punishing Pakistan for it.

NPR's Mary Louise Kelly was one of the reporters at yesterday's briefing at Pakistan's embassy. Mary Louise, good morning.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I want to figure this out: You're not allowed to identify this official by name or title. We're just saying he's a Pakistani military official. But you are allowed to say whatever it was that he said.

KELLY: Right, those were the ground rules of the briefing. Cannot identify this official by name. But he is a senior military official and certainly in a position to speak with authority about Pakistan's nuclear program. And the message that he was trying to get out yesterday was this whole saga with A.Q. Khan was, he called it a sordid business. He said we have ordered investigations, we've gotten to the bottom of it; we've cooperated with U.S. intelligence and now the U.S. needs to stop punishing us for what he called the rogue operations of one man.

I should probably insert here almost no one in U.S. intelligence I've spoken to thinks that Khan's network did in fact represent the rogue activities of one man. But Pakistan has always insisted that that was the case, and that remains their official position. I do think Pakistan is feeling some heat in light of this month's nuclear test by North Korea that has very much put Pakistan's own history of proliferation back in the spotlight. And I suspect this briefing was timed to counter some of those concerns.

INSKEEP: What is the U.S. doing that Pakistan sees as punishment?

KELLY: What this official was specifically getting at is the civilian nuclear deal that the U.S. has negotiated recently with Pakistan's archrival, which is of course India. Pakistan is furious about that deal. They would like the same deal for themselves. And they apparently feel the reason they haven't been extended that deal is because of the history with A.Q. Khan.

But it's interesting because, you know, in fact if anything, the Bush administration has been criticized for not punishing Pakistan, for giving Pakistan a pass on A.Q. Khan, for not publicly demanding access to him. And I think that's, you know, widely seen to be because the U.S. doesn't want to do anything to destabilize President Musharraf's government, which is seen as a very valuable ally in other matters, particularly obviously the war on terror.

INSKEEP: Could you remind us where A.Q. Khan is and what the latest news is on him?

KELLY: After he made his public apology, he was put under house arrest in Islamabad. There were a lot of rumors earlier this year that he was very sick, and this official who was briefing reporters says not the case, that he does have high blood pressure; that he was actually treated recently in Karachi for prostate cancer, but that that went well, that Khan is back. He is at home again; he is in good health, physically. This official says he does suffer from bouts of depressions. He can get aggressive. And that depending on his mood, he sometimes refuses to cooperate with the interrogations.

INSKEEP: When he is cooperating, does he say anything?

KELLY: Not completely clear. This official yesterday said he thinks Khan has said all he's going to say, that there's no point in further interrogations. He did say, this official, if new information surfaces, we'll ask him about it. And we're told that South Korea has been putting forward questions, Britain, U.N. inspectors. Interestingly, we're told the U.S. has not posed any new questions in nearly eight months, which is interesting given what's been going on in North Korea, as we say, and in Iran.

INSKEEP: Well, Mary Louise, thanks for going through our interrogation this morning.

KELLY: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR intelligence correspondent Mary Louise Kelly.

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