The United States is increasingly concerned about new vulnerabilities for Pakistans nuclear arsenal,including the potential for militants to snatch a weapon in transport or to insert sympathizers into laboratories or fuel-production facilities in the aftermath of advance of the Taliban and al Qaeda fighters within 60 km of Islamabad.
American officials emphasized that there was no reason to believe that the arsenal,most of which is south of the capital,Islamabad,faced an imminent threat,The New York Times reports.
President Barack Obama said last week that he remained confident that keeping the countrys nuclear infrastructure secure was the top priority of Pakistans armed forces. But the US does not know where all of Pakistani nuclear sites are located,and its concerns have intensified since the Taliban entered Buner.
The spread of the insurgency has left American officials less willing to accept blanket assurances from Pakistan that the weapons are safe.
Pakistani officials have continued to deflect US requests for more details about the location and security of the countrys nuclear sites,American officials said.
Some of the Pakistani reluctance,they said,stemmed from longstanding concern that the United States might be tempted to seize or destroy Pakistans arsenal if the insurgency appeared about to engulf areas near Pakistans nuclear sites.
But they said the most senior American and Pakistani officials had not yet engaged on the issue,a process that may begin this week,with President Asif Ali Zardari scheduled to visit Obama in Washington on Wednesday.
We are largely relying on assurances,the same assurances we have been hearing for years, said one senior official who was involved in the dialogue with Pakistan during the Bush years,and remains involved today. The worse things get,the more strongly they hew to the line,Dont worry,weve got it under control.
In public,the administration has only hinted at those concerns,repeating the formulation that the Bush Administration used: that it has faith in the Pakistani Army,the NYT reports.
Zardari heads the countrys National Command Authority,the mix of political,military and intelligence leaders responsible for its arsenal of 60 to 100 nuclear weapons. But in reality,his command and control over the weapons are considered tenuous at best; that power lies primarily in the hands of Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.