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Pakistani leader says nuclear arms are safe

Points to military control of arsenal

DAVOS, Switzerland -- Pakistan's president said yesterday that airtight military control over his country's nuclear weapons will keep them safe from terrorists, even if something happens to him.

Pervez Musharraf, who endured two assassination attempts in the past month, said that "as long as the military of Pakistan remains, nothing can go wrong."

Speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, Musharraf also disclosed details of how the development of Pakistan's secret nuclear program gave wide latitude to scientists, possibly allowing them to sell nuclear secrets for personal gain.

The president told reporters that Pakistan is investigating the possibility that government officials knew about leaks of technology abroad. Agents also are checking bank accounts of nine scientists and administrators detained on suspicion of selling information to Iran and elsewhere, an Interior Ministry official said in Pakistan yesterday.

"We will sort out everyone who is involved," Musharraf said.

He said Pakistan's covert program to obtain nuclear weaponry started about 30 years ago, after neighboring India conducted nuclear tests, and that scientists were given "freedom of action" to develop the technology.

"Covert meant scientists moved around with full autonomy in a secretive manner," he said, adding that the program "could succeed only if there was total autonomy and nobody knew."

Musharraf, who was Pakistan's top general when he seized power in a bloodless 1999 coup, hinted that European countries share the blame for nuclear proliferation.

"There are European countries involved in the refining and producing," he said. "It is high-class metallurgy. Where is it available? In Europe. So why is no one talking about it?"

Musharraf said he set up the National Command Authority, which he chairs, to oversee the nuclear program after he came to power.

He said there was a system of checks and "we have left no stone unturned to protect our assets."

He rejected suggestions that elements of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency may have acted on their own in the past, sending nuclear secrets abroad without the knowledge of the political leadership.

He said that the agency was under firm control and that he had twice replaced its top official.

"Let me assure you that the ISI does exactly what the government wants them to do," he said.

Musharraf said after the meeting that Pakistan's nuclear weapons would be protected even if he was killed.

"The security of all of this is a military responsibility," he said. "As long as the military of Pakistan remains, nothing can go wrong."

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