NEW YORK (Online) – The Obama administration is exploring a deal with Pakistan that would limit the scope of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, “the fastest-growing on Earth”, the New York Times reported on Friday.
According to the NYT report, the talks are the first in the decade since one of the founders of its nuclear programme, Abdul Qadeer Khan, was “caught selling the country’s nuclear technology around the world”.
The talks are being held in advance of the arrival of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Washington next week. They focus on American concern that Pakistan might be on the verge of deploying a small tactical nuclear weapon – explicitly modeled on weapons the United States put in Europe during the Cold War to deter a Soviet invasion – that would be far harder to secure than the country’s arsenal of larger weapons.
But outside experts familiar with the discussions, which have echoes of the Obama administration’s first approaches to Iran on its nuclear programme three years ago, expressed deep skepticism that Pakistan is ready to put limits on a program that is the pride of the nation, and that it regards as its only real defense against India.
The discussions are being led by Peter R Lavoy, a longtime intelligence expert on the Pakistani programme who is now on the staff of the National Security Council.
At the White House on Thursday, Josh Earnest, the press secretary, was asked about the talks and broke from the administration’s previous position of refusing to comment.
“A deal like the one that’s been discussed publicly is not something that’s likely to come to fruition next week,” he said.
“But the United States and Pakistan are regularly engaged in a dialogue about the importance of nuclear security. And I would anticipate that that dialogue would include conversations between the leaders of our two countries.”
The central element of the proposal, according to other officials and outside experts, would be a relaxation of strict controls put on Pakistan by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a loose affiliation of nations that tries to control the proliferation of weapons.
“If Pakistan would take the actions requested by the United States, it would essentially amount to recognition of rehabilitation and would essentially amount to parole,” said George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who has maintained contacts with the Pakistani nuclear establishment.
“I think it’s worth a try,” Perkovich said. “But I have my doubts that the Pakistanis are capable of doing this.”
David Ignatius, a columnist for The Washington Post, first disclosed the exploratory talks in a column a week ago. Since then, several other officials and outside experts have talked in more detail about the effort, although the White House has refused to comment.