Obama must up fight against nuclear trade

January 13, 2009
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, WASHINGTON, January 13 – Incoming President Barack Obama must step up ways to stop secret nuclear trade involving Pakistan, Iran and North Korea that goes far beyond an AQ Khan network that may still be active, experts say.

In the Bush administration\’s waning days, the State Department on Monday unveiled sanctions against detained Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, 12 associates and three firms linked to his nuclear proliferation network.

The sanctions forbid the 16 from having business dealings with the US government or private US firms in what the State Department says is a renewed bid to make sure the network has been shut down entirely.

The sanctions were welcomed by former United Nations arms inspector David Albright and Howard Berman, chairman of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

"It\’s a slap in the face of Khan. The US is saying \’you can\’t deny what you did and expect people to believe you\’," said Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS).

Khan has been effectively under house arrest in Islamabad since February 2004, when he confessed on television to sending nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea, although he retracted his remarks later.

The sanctions serve to "stigmatize" Khan, a hero for many Pakistanis as the father of the country\’s atomic bomb, and some of the 12 others who have avoided legal action, Albright said.

Turkey, for example, has not prosecuted Turkish businessman Selim Alguadis, who is targeted in the sanctions along with his firm EKA Elektronik Kontrol Aletleri Sanayi ve Ticaret AS, he said.

A State Department official told AFP on the condition of anonymity that Washington hoped countries would tighten their existing sanctions but gave no specifics.

Albright feared that dozens of people who were not sanctioned may still be involved in the network through hubs like Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and in Malaysia, which he said has no export control laws.

"The priorities for the Obama administration is to look again at how you try to slow it (illicit nuclear trade) down, stop it. And it\’s a much bigger problem than Khan," he said.

"Iran creates its own networks. They\’re very good at it and they\’ve been doing it for a long time," he said. "North Korea, they\’re engaged in buying and selling to questionable parties."

Albright said the Bush administration did well in using intelligence to smash the AQ Khan network and in pushing the UN Security Council to require countries to adopt export control laws.

However, he recommended that the Obama administration focus less on the confrontational approach of sanctions and more on cooperation with countries and companies.

Berman welcomed what he called "belated" sanctions.

"But the sanctions do not put an end to the matter; equipment and technology from this network may still be circulating, and new suppliers could well spring up to take Khan’s place," Berman warned.

"President Obama inherits a complex situation, in which he must redouble US efforts against international black markets in weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles," he said in statement.

"And Congress should be ready to provide new funds and the legal authorities that he may need to end the activities of these merchants of mass destruction," added Berman.

Speaking at a foreign policy forum in Washington last week, William Perry, who was defense secretary for president Bill Clinton, warned that the threat from the spread of nuclear weapons technology was greater than ever.

"If (the nuclear programs of) Iran and North Korea cannot be contained, we are facing a real danger of a cascade of nuclear proliferation," Perry said.

Obama, who assumes the presidency on January 20, has set a high priority on fighting nuclear proliferation.

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