WASHINGTON – Pakistan ruled out sharing its nuclear weapons with Saudi Arabia, insisting Thursday that the atomic arsenal would continue serving solely for Pakistan's national defense even as world powers and Iran near a possible nuclear agreement.
Closing a wide-ranging trip to Washington, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry angrily rejected speculation that his country could sell or transfer nuclear arms or advanced technology as "unfounded and baseless."
Pakistan has long been among the world's greatest proliferation threats, having shared weapons technology with Iran, Libya and North Korea. And American and other intelligence services have been taking seriously the threat of Saudi Arabia or other Arab countries potentially seeking the Muslim country's help in matching Iran's nuclear capabilities, even if the U.S. says there is no evidence of such action right now.
"Pakistan is not talking to Saudi Arabia on nuclear issues, period," Chaudhry insisted. The arsenal, believed to be in excess of 100 weapons, is focused only on Pakistan's threat perception from "the East," Chaudhry said, a clear reference to long-standing rival and fellow nuclear power India.
Chaudhry said his country has significantly cracked down in recent years on proliferation, improving its export controls and providing U.N. nuclear monitors with all necessary information. Pakistan also won't allow any weapons to reach terrorists, he said.
Pakistan detonated its first nuclear weapons in 1998, shortly after India did.
At the same time, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, A.Q. Khan, was shopping advanced technology to many of the world's most distrusted governments. He sold centrifuges for enriching bomb-making material to the Iranians, Libyans and North Koreans, and also shared designs for fitting warheads on ballistic missiles. He was forced into retirement in 2001.
Concerns now center on how the Sunni Arab governments of the Middle East will respond if the U.S. and other governments clinch a nuclear deal with Shiite Iran by the end of the month. Such questions inevitably lead to Pakistan, the only Muslim country in the nuclear club and one with historically close ties to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi officials, for their part, have repeatedly refused to rule out any steps to protect their country, saying they will not negotiate their faith or their security.
Chaudhry was in the American capital for a U.S.-Pakistan strategic dialogue and meetings with several senior diplomatic and military officials.
The State Department said Wednesday the agenda included "international efforts to enhance nuclear security" as well as nonproliferation and export controls. It described the discussions as "productive" and said the governments would work together to prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Speaking to reporters, Chaudhry praised the progress thus far in the Iran nuclear talks. He told reporters that a diplomatic success would have significant economic benefits for Pakistan, allowing it to complete a long-sought gas pipeline project with its neighbor to the west.