Pakistan Suspected of Nuclear Aid to North Korea

WASHINGTON -- U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Pakistan, a vital ally since last year's terrorist attacks, was a major supplier of critical equipment for North Korea's newly revealed clandestine nuclear weapons program, current and former senior U.S. officials said Friday.

The equipment, which may include gas centrifuges used to create weapons-grade uranium, appears to have been part of a barter deal beginning in the late 1990s in which North Korea supplied Pakistan with missiles it could use to counter India's nuclear arsenal, the officials said.

"What you have here," said one official familiar with the intelligence, "is a perfect meeting of interests -- the North had what the Pakistanis needed, and the Pakistanis had a way for Kim Jong Il to restart a nuclear program we had stopped." China and Russia were less prominent suppliers, officials said.

The White House said it would not discuss Pakistan's role or any other intelligence information. Nor would senior administration officials who briefed reporters discuss exactly what intelligence they showed to North Korean officials over two weeks ago, prompting the North's defiant declaration that it had secretly started a program to enrich uranium in violation of its past commitments.

The trade between Pakistan and North Korea appears to have occurred around 1997, roughly two years before General Pervez Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup. However, the relationship appears to have continued after General Musharraf became president, and there is some evidence that a commercial relationship between the two countries extended beyond Sept. 11 of last year.

A spokesman for the Pakistani Embassy, Asad Hayauddin, said it was "absolutely incorrect" to accuse Pakistan of providing nuclear weapons technology to North Korea. "We have never had an accident or leak or any export of fissile material or nuclear technology or knowledge," he said.

The suspected deal between Pakistan and North Korea underscores the enormous diplomatic complexity of the U.S. administration's task in trying to disarm North Korea.

In Beijing, two U.S. diplomats, James Kelly and John Bolton, pressed Chinese officials to use all their diplomatic and economic leverage to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. The subject is expected to dominate a meeting this week between U.S. President George W. Bush and President Jiang Zemin of China, at Bush's ranch in Texas.

U.S. officials said their suspicions about North Korea's new nuclear program only came together this summer. Bush fully briefed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan on U.S. suspicions when the two leaders met in New York in September, according to Japanese and U.S. officials.