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Khan Still Key to Nuclear Nonproliferation Efforts

Interviewee: Charles D. Ferguson, Fellow for Science and Technology, Council on Foreign Relations
Interviewer: Jayshree Bajoria, Staff Writer, CFR.org
June 16, 2008

New revelations about the founder of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program, A.Q. Khan, have thrust the scientist back into the international spotlight. The New York Times reports investigators found blueprints for a compact, easily concealed nuclear device, linked to Khan computers, which raises questions about who might have bought the weapons designs. Earlier in June, Khan recanted claims (Daily Times) he had made about passing nuclear secrets to Iran and Libya.

Charles D. Ferguson, CFR's fellow for science and technology, says the United States should make more of an effort to gain access to Khan in order to interview him and learn about the nuclear black market. Khan has been under house arrest for the last four years, and Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has denied the international community access to him. "I have not seen any significant evidence to show that the U.S. government has really pressured President Musharraf" to get access to Khan, Ferguson says.

Ferguson says the remnants of Khan's network remain dangerous today because a country like Iran would have to turn to black markets if it wanted to buy supplies for a nuclear weapons program. But many in the Bush administration are afraid to take a hard look at the issue, Ferguson says, because it might implicate Musharraf. He advocates a nuanced diplomatic approach, noting that the Pakistani government might react sharply against additional pressure: "We shouldn't hem ourselves in saying we can only focus on shoring up the Pakistani government or pushing hard on them to really get a handle on what went on with the Khan network. I think we need to do both."

* Editor's note: This podcast interview was recorded prior to the news of the nuclear blueprints.

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