U.S. Says Pakistan Gave Technology to North Korea
By DAVID E. SANGER and JAMES DAO
[New York Times, 18 October] - WASHINGTON, Oct. 17 — American intelligence officials have concluded that Pakistan, a vital ally since last year's terrorist attacks, was a major supplier of critical equipment for North Korea's newly revealed clandestine nuclear weapons program, current and former senior American officials said today.
The equipment, which may include gas centrifuges used to create weapons-grade uranium, appears to have been part of a barter deal beginning in the late 1990's in which North Korea supplied Pakistan with missiles it could use to counter India's nuclear arsenal, the officials said.
"What you have here," said one official familiar with the intelligence, "is a perfect meeting of interests — the North had what the Pakistanis needed, and the Pakistanis had a way for Kim Jong Il to restart a nuclear program we had stopped." China and Russia were less prominent suppliers, officials said.
The White House said tonight that it would not discuss Pakistan's role or any other intelligence information. Nor would senior administration officials who briefed reporters today discuss exactly what intelligence they showed to North Korean officials two weeks ago, prompting the North's defiant declaration that it had secretly started a program to enrich uranium in violation of its past commitments.
The trade between Pakistan and North Korea appears to have occurred around 1997, roughly two years before Gen. Pervez Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup. However, the relationship appears to have continued after General Musharraf became president, and there is some evidence that a commercial relationship between the two country's extended beyond Sept. 11 of last year.
A spokesman for the Pakistan Embassy, Asad Hayauddin, said it was "absolutely incorrect" to accuse Pakistan of providing nuclear weapons technology to North Korea. "We have never had an accident or leak or any export of fissile material or nuclear technology or knowledge," he said.
The suspected deal between Pakistan and North Korea underscores the enormous diplomatic complexity of the administration's task in trying to disarm North Korea, an effort that began in earnest today.
In Beijing, two American diplomats, James A. Kelly and John R. Bolton, pressed Chinese officials to use all their diplomatic and economic leverage to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. The subject is expected to dominate a meeting next week between President Bush — who a spokesman said today "believes this is troubling and sobering news" — and President Jiang Zemin of China, at Mr. Bush's ranch in Texas.
Mr. Bush did not address the North Korean revelation at appearances in Atlanta and Florida today. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld did talk about the disclosures at the Pentagon, but one official said the effort to play down the topic was part of an administration strategy of "avoiding a crisis atmosphere."
At the same time, White House and State Department officials argued that what they called North Korea's "belligerent" announcement to a visiting American delegation two weeks ago demonstrated the need to disarm Iraq before it enjoys similar success.
"Here's a case in North Korea where weapons have proliferated and put at risk our interests and the interests of two of our great allies," Japan and South Korea, Richard L. Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, said today. "It might make our case more strong in Iraq." Some Democrats agreed, while opponents of a military strike against Iraq argued the reverse, saying the administration's muted reaction to North Korea, and its announcement that it wanted to solve the problem peacefully, should also apply to Baghdad.
There were conflicting explanations today about why the administration kept the North Korean admission quiet for 12 days.
The White House said it simply wanted time to consult with Japan, South Korea and other Asian nations, and with members of Congress, before deciding its next step. But some of the administration's critics suggested that the real reason was that the administration did not want to complicate the debate over Iraq in Congress and the United Nations.
On Capitol Hill, conservative Republicans argued that the 1994 accord that froze North Korea's nuclear program — an agreement the North Koreans now say is "nullified" — should be scrapped, and talked about new efforts to isolate North Korea. But within the Bush administration, it has been a matter of some controversy whether to abandon the Clinton-era accord. Hard-liners have argued that it should be scrapped.
But other officials, including some at the State Department and the National Security Council, are warning that walking away from the accord carries a major risk: it could free North Korea to remove from storage "canned" nuclear fuel rods with enough plutonium to produce upwards of five nuclear weapons.
American officials said their suspicions about North Korea's new nuclear program only came together this summer. Mr. Bush fully briefed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan on American suspicions when the two leaders met in New York in September, according to Japanese and American officials. But it is unclear how strongly Mr. Koizumi raised the issue later with Kim Jong Il during his visit to North Korea.
Today, several of Mr. Bush's top aides argued that North Korea and Iraq were separate cases — and while North Korea might have more advanced weapons, it could be contained through diplomacy and the 37,000 American troops stationed in South Korea. Appearing on ABC's "Nightline" tonight, Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, said that "Saddam Hussein is in a category by himself, as still the only leader to have actually used a weapon of mass destruction against his own people, against his neighbors." She said that Mr. Kim was also a dictatorial leader, and that North Korea had a record of exporting missiles and other weaponry around the world. But she said "we do believe that we have other ways to deal with North Korea."
While the action the United States would seek against North Korea was still being debated, one senior official said that Mr. Bush and his aides would ask Russia and China to exercise some "direct leverage" against North Korea by restricting trade.
In 1998, a commission on missile threats led by Mr. Rumsfeld, then still in private life, concluded that North Korea was "a major proliferator" of missile technology to Pakistan and Iran, among other countries. It said that in 1998, Pakistan tested its version of a North Korean-designed missile called the Nodong, which has a range of more than 700 miles. But Clinton administration officials say they could not figure out how Pakistan, virtually broke at the time, could afford the purchases.
Exactly when North Korea received equipment from Pakistan is still unclear. But today American officials estimated that North Korea's highly enriched uranium project started sometime around 1997 or 1998 — roughly the same time Pakistan tested the missiles it received from North Korea.