WASHINGTON - Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, defended yesterday his decision not to allow international investigators to interrogate A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani scientist accused of peddling nuclear secrets around the world.
Appearing offended, Musharraf said the requests from United Nations nuclear inspectors indicated a lack of trust in Pakistan. In a CNN interview, he portrayed the issue as a matter of national pride.
President Bush met with Musharraf on Saturday and urged the Pakistani general to make sure that all possible information about nuclear proliferation by the Khan network be turned over to the Americans. Musharraf promised to do so.
But the White House did not ask for direct access to Khan - apparently in deference to Pakistani sensitivities about a man who, as the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb, had been considered a hero. However, the International Atomic Energy Agency still wants to interview Khan, who has been pardoned by Musharraf, as well as his assistant, who is being held in Malaysia.
In the CNN interview yesterday, Musharraf insisted that Pakistan could do the best job of interrogating Khan.
"It shows a lack of trust in us," Musharraf complained. "We can question him the best, and then there is ... a domestic sensitivity. This man is a hero for the Pakistanis, and there is a sensitivity that maybe the world wants to intervene in our nuclear program, which nobody wants. ...
"It is a pride of the nation," he concluded.
Analysts have raised doubts about whether Musharraf is keeping Khan from speaking to international investigators for fear the scientist might reveal the extent to which some of his activities may have been condoned by the Pakistani military.
Musharraf denied "200 percent" that the Pakistani government or military had any knowledge that Khan was making nuclear weapons information available to other nations.
During a visit to the United States, Musharraf, a key Bush administration ally in the war on terrorism, also said that in hindsight, the U.S. decision to invade Iraq was a mistake.
"We have landed ourselves in more trouble," he said.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.