ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan's government on Monday rejected a media report that an international black market in weapons technology, run by disgraced Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan (search), may have sold equipment to Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.
But while Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed described as "baseless" the allegations printed in this week's edition of Time magazine, he did not rule out the possibility that Khan could have sold technology to more countries than initially thought.
"We don't know of any other country that he gave nuclear technology to. But if there is another country, we will investigate," Ahmed told The Associated Press. "If there are any questions (for Khan) we will ask them."
Khan, once regarded as a national hero for his role in developing Pakistan's nuclear deterrent against rival India, has lived under virtual house here since he confessed in February 2004 to selling sensitive technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea.
President Gen. Pervez Musharraf (search) has pardoned Khan, and says the scientist's international network has been dismantled. The government denies any official involvement in the multimillion dollar illicit trade that earned Khan a fortune — estimated by Time at up to US$400 million.
The United States has submitted questions to Pakistan to ask Khan about whether North Korea and Iran sold nuclear equipment to third parties, but authorities have apparently not allowed U.S. agents to interview Khan themselves.
The Time report cited an unidentified Pakistani Defense Ministry official as saying that U.S. officials were investigating whether Khan's network might have sold nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, such as Egypt.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan also denied the Time report. He also denied that Khan's network supplied Saudi Arabia with nuclear technology.
"The international black market network as far as it was related to Pakistan has been dismantled. It has been neutralized," he said at a weekly news briefing in Islamabad.
Khan blamed unnamed "constituencies who launch and sustain this kind of disinformation campaign. Pakistan is a nuclear state and this is one of the risks that is involved in this status."
Ahmed said that Pakistan remained in contact with the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (search), but reiterated that it would not hand over the scientist for questioning by non-Pakistanis.
"We have inquired as much as we can, if somebody has more questions, we are ready to satisfy IAEA," he said. "But there is no way to deliver A.Q. Khan to anyone."
He denied that Khan's network was still operating and one specific allegation in the report that 16 cylinders of uranium hexafluoride gas — a critical ingredient for uranium enrichment for weapons — had gone missing from Pakistan's leading nuclear lab, the Khan Research Laboratories (search), named after the scientist.
"There are no cylinders missing from KRL. The inventory is complete," Ahmed said.
Last week, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker told reporters that investigations into the full scope of Khan's network were continuing, and that the United States was looking forward to hearing the full results of Pakistan's inquiries.
Khan, the foreign ministry spokesman, said Pakistan has shared the results of its investigations "transparently and candidly" with the international community.
"I think it's a joint responsibility of the international community, all key actors to act against proliferation," he said. "That's why our investigations are continuing and if fresh leads emerge we would like to check them out and if fresh evidence is furnished to us we would like to look into that."