ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – Pakistan on Tuesday denied a report that its scientists gave high-tech centrifuge design technology to Libya (search), the latest allegation linking the U.S. ally's nuclear program to Washington's bitterest enemies.
The alleged technology transfer to Libya took place after Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf (search) pledged in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that he would rein in his nuclear scientists in an effort to keep their expertise from falling into the hands of rogue regimes or terrorists, The New York Times said in a story in Tuesday editions.
There's no evidence the Pakistani government knew its scientists were selling information, but the alleged technology transfers raised doubts about Musharraf's ability to make good on his promise, the Times said.
"This is total madness. The report is absolutely false, and there is no truth in it," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told The Associated Press.
A senior official at Pakistan's Atomic Energy Commission, speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity, also denied government involvement, but stopped short of rejecting the charge of nuclear transfers outright.
"Pakistan should not be blamed for any individual's wrongful act," he said. "We do not know who has been helping Iran, North Korea or Libya."
In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell said the Libyan government was being "very forthcoming" just weeks after Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi (search) pledged to give up nuclear weapons development.
"The next step is to make sure we have a clear understanding of what Libya possesses, make sure it matches up with what we think they possess and what they tell us they possess," Powell said, adding that the United States would work with the U.N. nuclear agency and other experts.
Powell said he didn't have enough information to comment on the charges of whether Pakistani scientists shared nuclear technology, saying, "We will be examining all of this."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the International Atomic Energy Agency (search) will take the lead in monitoring Libya's progress in destroying weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration wants the monitoring done by a team of American and British experts.
"It was the atomic agency that sent in a team to follow through, it is the atomic agency that is going to inspect to ensure that Libya is really going to be rid of weapons of mass destruction," Annan said in New York.
A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, declined to discuss the allegations involving Pakistan and Libya, but stressed that a black market in such components stretched across Europe and Asia.
"Certainly all fingers are pointing at Pakistan," the diplomat said. "But I don't think it's just Pakistan that needs to be concerned."
In December, Pakistan's government said it was questioning a number of its nuclear scientists on suspicion that "ambition and greed" may have led them to sell their knowledge to Iran. Islamabad denied government involvement in the plot and said any leaks were limited to Iran.
Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear program, was among the scientists questioned after officials received documents from the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency about Iran's nuclear program, officials say.
But Pakistani officials say Khan is not a suspect. He was seen Tuesday sitting with other dignitaries at a convention center where Pakistan is hosting the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Musharraf had "made his assurances" to President Bush that he would rein in Pakistani scientists.
"We fully expect President Musharraf and the government of Pakistan to follow through on those assurances," McClellan said Tuesday.
Still, the White House spokesman added, "We recognize it's always difficult to control the activities of rogue individuals whose motives are personal gain. We are working with many nations to overcome that issue."
Centrifuges can be used to enrich uranium for use in a nuclear device. Hundreds of centrifuges are needed to make enough material for a nuclear weapon. Each requires high-precision tubing that is difficult to produce.
The Iran link with Pakistan technology was disclosed after Tehran agreed to come clean about its nuclear program. Libya agreed in December to scrap its nuclear program and open itself to full inspections.
A diplomat with knowledge of the Iran investigation recently told the AP on condition of anonymity that U.S. intelligence also had "pretty convincing" evidence of a link between Pakistan and North Korea's weapons program, something Islamabad denies.
Pakistan has long been suspected of proliferation during its 30-year effort to build nuclear weapons as a deterrent against neighboring rival India. The two nations tested their first nuclear weapons in 1998.