‘US eyes deal to limit Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal’

Washington, Oct 15 (IANS) The US is exploring a deal with Pakistan that would limit the scope of its nuclear arsenal, touted as the fastest-growing globally and conservatively placed at close to 100.

According to a report published in New York Times, the discussions 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 were being held in advance of the arrival of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Washington next week.

They focus on American concerns that Pakistan might be on the verge of deploying a small tactical nuclear weapon — explicitly modelled on weapons the US 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.

US analysts have said that Pakistan is far from putting any limitations on its programme due to tensions with neighbouring India. They have said that Pakistan treats its nuclear programme as its pride and would not compromise.

The discussions are being led by Peter R. Lavoy, a longtime intelligence expert on the Pakistani programme and who is now on the staff of the National Security Council. White House officials declined to comment on the talks ahead of Sharif’s visit.

But the central element of the proposal, according to other officials and outside experts, would be a relaxation of the strict controls imposed on Pakistan by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, a loose affiliation of nations that tries to control the proliferation of weapons.

The US-led training and assistance of Pakistani staff in keeping the arsenal safe and secure continues during the Obama administration. The US, NY Times states, will use the meetings with Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division to convince Islamabad over “high risk” of using short-range weapons against Indian troops.

Earlier, American officials have told Congress they are increasingly convinced that most of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is under good safeguards, with warheads separated from delivery vehicles and a series of measures in place to guard against unauthorized use. But they fear the smaller weapons are easier to steal, or would be easier to use should they fall into the hands of a rogue commander.

Lavoy has said that Pakistan should be convinced to not deploy long-range warheads that could target countries in line after India.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty due to constant tensions with rival India. The treaty bars nations from building or possessing nuclear warheads. However, already declared nuclear states like the US are exceptions.

Estimates of Pakistan’s stockpile of nuclear warheads vary. The most recent analysis, published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 2010, estimates that Pakistan has 70-90 nuclear warheads.

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