House arrest ended for Pakistani scientist
The Pakistani government on Friday freed Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist accused of selling nuclear secrets, after five years of house arrest, a step the Obama administration called "extremely regrettable."
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Pakistani government on Friday freed Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist accused of selling nuclear secrets, after five years of house arrest, a step the Obama administration called "extremely regrettable."
Khan, a popular figure in Pakistan as the "father" of its nuclear bomb, confessed in 2004 to selling nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya. The Pakistani government pardoned him but confined him to his home under heavy guard. He later retracted his confession.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she was "very much concerned" about Khan's release. Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said Khan "remains a serious proliferation risk" and releasing him would be "extremely regrettable."
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said President Obama wanted assurances from Pakistan that the scientist wouldn't be involved in nuclear proliferation.
It appeared there was a secret deal between Khan, a metallurgist, and the Pakistani government that a Pakistani court endorsed.
In an interview Friday, Khan, 72, said he had no plans to travel abroad or to engage in domestic politics. He strolled in the front garden of his villa in Islamabad, which he shares with his Dutch wife and granddaughter, playing with a dog and receiving well-wishers.
He also indicated he would continue to be under security surveillance.
"It's a nice feeling; the worry is gone. I can lead a normal life now as a normal citizen. It's a fine feeling," he said by telephone.
Asked what the international community would think of his release, Khan was defiant.
"Are they happy with our God? Are they happy with our prophet? Are they happy with our leader? Never," he said. "I don't care about rest of the world. I care about my country. Obama cares about America, not about Pakistan or India or Afghanistan."
His release could affect U.S. aid to Pakistan, even as a proposal for some $15 billion in assistance comes before Congress. Rep. Howard Berman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Congress would take the action into account as it drafted the legislation for aid to Pakistan.
Pakistan's action put a cloud over the maiden visit of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Obama's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, who is scheduled to arrive in Islamabad next week.
After years of investigation, Western intelligence agencies uncovered Khan's nuclear-trading network by late 2003. The U.S. government put enormous pressure on Pakistan, which fired him as the head of its weapons program and arrested him.
Khan is a national hero in Pakistan for spearheading the nuclear-weapons program, and many Pakistanis think the development of the bomb saved the country from attack by archrival India, so his release Friday was popular.
The court said Khan had been freed under the terms of a "mutual agreement" between the scientist and the government but gave no details.
Pakistan hasn't allowed foreign investigators to question Khan and said it had passed on all relevant information about nuclear proliferation. That barrier to foreign questioning apparently will remain. "The so-called A.Q. Khan affair is a closed chapter," Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said Friday.
It's widely thought that Khan worked with members of the Pakistani military in his proliferation activities, and he previously has hinted that he was made a scapegoat for others.
In 2007, a United Nations nuclear watchdog said Khan's network had been active in 12 countries. Last month, the State Department imposed sanctions on 13 individuals — two of them British — and three companies for involvement in Khan's network.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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