Pakistan's illegal nuclear procurement was exposed as early as 1987 with the arrest of a Pak national, resulting in sharp divisions in US government, but then Regan Administration decided to ignore it in lieu of the Islamabad's contribution in Afghanistan against the Russians, the latest set of declassified documents revealed.
NSA released a set of declassified documents yesterday related to the arrest of Arshed Pervez in July 1987 on charges of illegal nuclear procurement, which among others reflects the divisions within the then Ronald Reagan administration.
"The Pervez case demonstrates how US government agencies, including the Customs Bureau and ACDA, sought to monitor and disrupt Pakistan's nuclear procurement activities. For its part, the Reagan White House used loopholes in US nonproliferation laws to avoid the enforcement of sanctions against Pakistan," the National Security Archive (NSA) said.
The documents revealed a record of meetings on 5 August 1987 between the then Pakistani ruler General Zia ul-Haq and the US Under Secretary Armacost.
Seeing a "conspiracy" to harm US-Pakistan relations, Armacost observed that Washington could not simply "wink" at Pakistani procurement operations.
He later said that US government "information" indicated that "enrichment levels above 90 per cent have been achieved at Kahuta," the site of a secret gas centrifuge facility.
This meant that Pakistan was producing weapons-grade material in violation of an earlier commitment to a five per cent ceiling, the National Security Archive said.
A State Department Intelligence and Research report that characterised Pervez as "a convenient tool" for Pakistani nuclear procurement agents "to use in obtaining sensitive goods in the US."
They supplied Pervez with nuclear "shopping lists" that showed that his "activities were part of a larger government-supported plan."
Pervez, who had tried to bribe a Customs official to get an export license, sought to purchase high strength maraging steel, uniquely suited for gas centrifuge enrichment technology, and quantities of beryllium for his country's covert nuclear program, NSA said.
His arrest and then an indictment in California on another case made headlines in the United States.
Adelman wanted President Reagan to invoke the Solarz amendment, which required an aid cut-off in the event that governments receiving US aid or their agents illegally tried to procure material that could be used for a nuclear weapons program, NSA said.
"Reagan, however, refused to invoke the Solarz amendment. Although Pervez would be found guilty, the White House kept aid flowing to Islamabad for reasons of "national security," it said.
NSA said for the Reagan administration, aiding the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan trumped non-proliferation policy interests.
The high priority given to a close US-Pakistan relationship may have encouraged, as some journalists have alleged, State Department officials to warn the Pakistanis of the imminent arrest of their agents, it said, adding that a key figure in the A Q Khan nuclear procurement network, Inam Ul-Haq evaded arrest by slipping out of the United States at the last minute.
"A few weeks later, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Michael Armacost explained to Pakistani dictator General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq that State had unsuccessfully tried to get information about the Customs Bureau's investigation of Perez, but we did alert the GOP [Government of Pakistan] through letters, Ambassador Hinton, and our talks with the Foreign Minister that there was an issue here that needed to be addressed urgently," it said.
"I understand the idea of warning, Zia replied," the NSA said.