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Pakistani President Says N. Korea Has Equipment for Nuclear Fuel

By David E. Sanger

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan said Monday that he believes that A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear expert who ran the world’s largest proliferation ring, exported “probably a dozen” centrifuges to North Korea to produce nuclear weapons fuel, but that after two years of interrogations of Khan there was still no evidence about whether he also gave North Korea a Chinese-origin design to build a nuclear weapon.

Musharraf’s comments in an interview, which echo statements he made last month to Japanese reporters, came a day before the United States reopens talks with North Korea about its nuclear program in Beijing. The Pakistani leader’s comments about the results of the interrogations of Khan, a national hero who is under a loose form of house arrest in Islamabad, are significant because they tend to confirm the accusations U.S. intelligence officials made against North Korea in 2002.

At that time, North Korean officials appeared to confirm that they had secretly started up a second nuclear program to build atomic weapons using uranium technology obtained from Khan’s network, as an alternative to a plutonium program that was frozen under a 1994 agreement with the United States. But ever since, North Korea has denied that a second, secret bomb program exists.

A dozen centrifuges would not be enough to produce a significant amount of bomb-grade uranium. But U.S. officials say they would have enabled North Korea to copy the design and build their own.

The Bush administration has insisted that unless North Korea agrees to give up both programs — and agrees to a broad program of inspections — no comprehensive nuclear deal can be reached. North Korea has suggested it may be willing to give up its older plutonium program, based at a huge nuclear complex located at Yongbyon, but has reiterated its denials that it has hidden centrifuges to make bomb-grade uranium.

In a wide-ranging discussion in New York with three journalists from The New York Times, Musharraf also discussed Pakistan’s tentative diplomatic openings toward Israel and its efforts to track down al-Qaida leaders. He said that the opening to Israel could flourish “in case there is forward movement” on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but he said, “this is by no means recognition of Israel.”