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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

North Korean's Death Linked to Pakistani Missiles

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Amid the clamor that followed Pakistan's nuclear tests last summer, the wife of a shadowy North Korean diplomat here was shot to death in her home.

The police filed no reports. The newspapers were silent. The husband, believed to be a key figure in North Korea's secretive missile program, left the country.

Today, more than a year after the incident, the few Pakistani officials who will talk about the case say that Kim Sanae was killed by mistake.

"I spoke with our intelligence agencies, and they said it was an accident,'' said Abdul Qadir Khan, the head of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program. "You Americans always try to put the blame on us.''

Other officials say the truth about Kim's death is more sinister. Some familiar with the case say that she was killed on purpose f probably by her own government f because she was spilling secrets about North Korea's missile and nuclear programs or because she was planning to defect.

"She was murdered,'' said one, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Kim's death has thrown new light on the military connection between Pakistan and North Korea.

While U.S. officials believe that North Korea has provided crucial help to Pakistan's missile program, the chief worry now is that economically troubled Pakistan may be tempted to pay for that help with secrets from its nuclear weapons laboratories.

That could give North Korea's leaders nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them far beyond the country's shores. Some experts believe that North Korean scientists may soon be able to assemble a nuclear bomb, and they are troubled by the country's relationship with nuclear-capable f and nearly bankrupt f Pakistan.

"Pakistan has the bomb, wants North Korea's missiles and doesn't have any money,'' said Henry Sokolski, an arms control expert in Washington. "North Korea has missiles and wants the bomb. That's a prescription for trouble.''

Officials at Pakistan's embassy in North Korea refused to talk about their relations with Pakistan or Kim's death. Pakistani officials have given repeated assurances that they will keep their nuclear secrets to themselves.

But Pakistan's economy is reeling toward collapse, and its nuclear technology is among its most valuable assets. Some say that North Korean technicians are already working at the nuclear labs.

"It's highly probable that North Koreans are in those labs,'' said a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. In recent years, the North Korean government has emerged as one of the world's most unpredictable regimes, relentlessly developing modern weaponry even as thousands or even millions of its people die of starvation.

U.S. officials believe that North Korea has shipped missile components to several countries and that its relationship with Pakistan has helped aggravate the dangerous confrontation on the Indian subcontinent. In 1994, in a highly publicized deal with the United States, North Korea's leaders agreed to quit developing nuclear weapons f but many worry that they will renege on the promise.

Last year, North Korean leaders test-fired a medium-range missile that sailed over Japan. U.S. officials believe North Korean leaders are preparing to test a long-range missile. Earlier this month, the North Korean leadership said it might be willing to delay the missile launch f if the price was right.

As U.S. officials ponder North Korea's intentions, they have uncovered evidence of a continuing relationship with nuclear-capable Pakistan.

In June, Indian officials seized a North Korean ship that they said was bound for Pakistan. Inside, they found 177 crates of blueprints, manuals, parts and machine tools for Scud missiles.

Pakistani officials said the ship was headed somewhere else.

U.S. officials believe that North Korean help has proved decisive in Pakistan's bid to acquire missiles than can deliver nuclear warheads.

After Pakistan tested a medium-range ballistic missile last April, the United States imposed sanctions on Pakistan's Khan Research Laboratories and a North Korean company that allegedly shipped missile components to Pakistan. U.S. officials believe that the missile was a carbon copy of a North Korean rocket.

A month later, leaders in India, alarmed by the Pakistani missile test, conducted five underground nuclear explosions f and proclaimed their country a nuclear-armed state. Two weeks later, Pakistani leaders exploded six underground nuclear devices.

A week after the last Pakistani test, on June 8 last year, Kim was killed in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital.

At the time of Kim's death, according to diplomatic sources, North Korean planes were delivering missile components to Pakistan twice a month. The flights stopped in May last year, shortly before her death, they said.