Pakistan has linked a US report suggesting that it is building a powerful nuclear reactor to its race with neighbour India, saying it was New Delhi, and not Islamabad, that introduced the nuclear weapons state in South Asia.
Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam defended Pakistan's standpoint, saying it was "not the first country" to introduce nuclear weapons into South Asia. She was apparently referring to India, The News said.
Taking a what's-new-about-it stance, she avoided directly answering questions posed on the report's findings. "This ought to be no revelation to anyone because Pakistan is a nuclear weapon state," Aslam said. "(But) I have no specific comments on Pakistan's facilities."
"We were not the first to test nuclear weapons in this region and that remains our position," Aslam said, adding: "We do not want an arms race in this region."
The Washington Post newspaper reported on Monday, citing independent analysts, that Pakistan is building a powerful nuclear reactor for producing plutonium.
Summing up Aslam's non-committal reaction to the report, The News pointed out: "But the Post quoted a senior Pakistani official as acknowledging a nuclear expansion was under way."
"Satellite photos of Pakistan's Khushab nuclear site show what appears to be a partially completed heavy-water reactor capable of producing enough plutonium for 40 to 50 nuclear weapons a year, a 20-fold increase from Pakistan's current capabilities," the Post said on its website, citing a technical assessment by Washington-based nuclear experts.
If verified, the move would signal a potential new escalation in the region's arms race, the newspaper observed.
Reacting to the Post report, the White House on Monday sought to discourage Pakistan from expanding its nuclear weapons programme.
"We have been aware of these plans and we discourage any use of that facility for military purposes, such as weapons development," news agencies said quoting White House spokesman Tony Snow.
At the same time, he noted that Pakistan has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty "and, therefore, they do develop their capabilities independently".
Asked whether the United States had sought assurances from Pakistan that it wouldn't use the new reactor to produce plutonium for use in nuclear weapons, Snow said, "Not that I'm aware of."