A new Pakistani nuclear reactor could be used for "military purposes" as well as for civilian power needs but will not lead to a massive increase in the country's nuclear arsenal, according to Pakistan's new ambassador to Washington, The Washington Times reported.
Ambassador Mahmud Ali Durrani, in an interview recently with The Washington Times, dismissed a private Washington-based think tank's report on the reactor under construction at the Khushab nuclear complex as "grossly exaggerated."
He denied the report's estimate that the new plant could produce enough weapons-grade plutonium to boost Pakistan's production from an estimated two nuclear bombs a year to as many as 50.
But he gave the first official acknowledgement that the heavy- water reactor would bring at least some increase in Pakistan's military nuclear capability at a time of heightened fears of a South Asia arms race with rival India, the newspaper said in its online edition.
"The plutonium may certainly be used for military purposes, but it is simply not the case that it will increase our capability X-fold," Durrani was quoted as saying.
The ambassador, a former top defense adviser to the Pakistani president and chairman of the country's military industrial complex for much of the 1990s, declined to give production figures for the new plant, the newspaper said.
But he said it would be far less powerful than the 1,000- megawatt estimate given last month by the Institute for Science and International Security. Pakistan's current reactor, located near the new one, is a 50-megawatt unit completed in 1998.
"I would love it to be 1,000 megawatts, because we certainly have the power needs," he was quoted as saying.
But the Khushab site has sparked international concerns as the United States and India move to ratify a nuclear cooperation deal that critics warn could allow India to greatly accelerate its own military nuclear program, The Washington Times noted.
Durrani, who presented his credentials to US President George W. Bush a month ago, said Pakistan had conveyed its "deep concerns" about the India accord to the Bush administration, while saying it was unlikely the deal could be derailed.
"We know your administration is very keen for this deal, but we also don't want to see an imbalance with India that we would have to match," Durrani said.
Meanwhile, Commerce Minister Humayun Akhtar Khan, who met with senior US officials and interacted with American business leaders, has reported 'very good progress' vis-a-vis efforts for negotiating a Pakistan-US free trade agreement. "We have had good discussions with senior US officials and the response of the American think tanks and entrepreneurs to the roll-out of outcome of the study on Pakistan-US FTA was also heartening," he said Thursday after holding several meetings with American officials.
During his meetings with officials including US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, US Trade Representative Susan Schwab, and Under Secretary of State for Economic, Business and Agriculture Josette S Shiner, the Commerce Minister also discussed Pakistan-US bilateral investment treaty and establishment of Reconstruction Opportunity Zones in Pakistan.
"We discussed about the FTA negotiations, the bilateral investment treaty we intend to move very fast on the establishment of reconstruction opportunity zones and a US team would be on its way to Pakistan shortly to look into the issue in detail," he said about the outcome of his meetings. About his interaction with the US business leaders at the Institute for International Commerce, Humayun said, the roll-out of the study spells out enormous benefits of an FTA for both countries.
The Minister also met with Senator Lincoln D Chafee, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Jay Rockefeller member of the US Finance Committee as America's trade agreements have to go through Senate Finance Committee.
"The study on FTA quantifies the problem it makes easier to reach American business and textile industry that we are not causing any harm to the US local textile industry and it also makes it easier for us to reach approval forums - various House and Senate Committees at the Hill as we are now able to substantiate our argument with sound facts and figures."
Earlier, the Commerce Minister addressed a gathering of leading American entrepreneurs and informed them about Pakistan's remarkable economic turnaround. He said Pakistan is for increasing its trade with the international community as in line with President Musharraf's vision it wants greater trade and not aid to sustain its growth.