Pakistan Suspected as China-Libya Middleman

VIENNA, Austria -- Drawings of a nuclear warhead surrendered by Libya as part of its decision to renounce weapons of mass destruction are of 1960s Chinese design but likely came from Pakistan, diplomats and experts said.

China is widely assumed to have been Pakistan's key supplier of much of the clandestine nuclear technology used to publicly establish the south Asian nation as a nuclear power in 1998 and resold to rogue regimes through the black-market network headed by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

The diplomats and experts, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the drawings appeared to be of a design never used by Pakistan, which went on to develop more modern nuclear weapons. Still, they said, they were likely supplied by China as part of the decades-long transfer of technology that Khan used to develop Pakistan's nuclear weapons. One of them called the drawings "dramatic evidence" of the Chinese-Pakistani nuclear link.

Libya surrendered the drawings in December after volunteering to scrap all research into developing weapons of mass destruction. The blueprints and accompanying documents are now in the United States under the seal of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

One of the experts said the drawing detailed how to build a warhead for a large ballistic missile, using technology developed by the Chinese in the 1960s that triggers a nuclear blast by a small conventional explosion.

While the instructions on the drawing were in English, some other documents surrendered by Libya along with the blueprints were in Chinese, he said.

He said that if built, the warhead would have weighed close to 500 kilograms. That's too bulky for any delivery system the Libyans possessed but not for the ballistic missiles developed by North Korea and Iran, the other nations said to have been supplied by Khan's network.

While there is no evidence either of those countries were supplied with the same or a similar drawing, "it would be a very nice warhead for those countries," said the expert.

North Korea runs a nuclear weapons program using plutonium. But U.S. officials also believe it has a separate program based on enriched uranium, possibly using technology imported from Pakistan. North Korea has denied the allegation. Iran denies trying to develop nuclear weapons but suspicions persist because it kept secret attempts to enrich uranium for nearly two decades. Although it agreed to open all aspects of its nuclear activities to IAEA perusal late last year, IAEA inspectors recently found designs of advanced enriching equipment it had kept from them.

As well, critics say that Iran is not fully honoring an agreement to suspend uranium enrichment, something denied by Tehran, which says it is interested in the process not to make weapons-grade uranium but to generate nuclear power.

Pakistan -- and Khan -- became the focus of international investigation on the basis of information Libya and Iran gave the Vienna-based IAEA about where they covertly bought nuclear technology that can be used to make weapons.

In the nuclear procurement chain that Khan has confessed to heading, hundreds of millions of dollars are thought to have changed hands over the past 15 years with key middlemen positioned in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.