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Nuclear probe widens to five nations

VIENNA -- The hunt for middlemen who worked with the father of Pakistan's nuclear program to supply rogue regimes with weapons technology has widened to Japan and Africa, diplomats said yesterday.

Suspects in Germany and two other European countries are also being investigated in the growing probe of the clandestine black market apparently headed by Abdul Qadeer Khan of Pakistan, they said.

Also, Malaysia announced yesterday it would investigate a company controlled by the prime minister's son for its alleged role in supplying components to Libya's nuclear program. The company also has been linked to the international nuclear black market tied to Pakistan.

The chief UN nuclear inspector said yesterday that Khan was an "important part" of the clandestine supply chain, but he said long and painstaking investigations into who sold what and to whom lay ahead.

"Dr. Khan was not working alone," said Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. "There were items that were manufactured in other countries, items that were reassembled in different countries.

"Dr. Khan was the tip of an iceberg for us, but we still have a lot of work to do."

ElBaradei said middlemen in five countries supplied nuclear technology and expertise to Iran -- which denies running a nuclear weapons program -- and to Libya, which has owned up to having weapons of mass destruction or programs to make them. Pakistani officials have said Khan's network had supplied North Korea, too, but ElBaradei said he couldn't confirm that.

The five countries include Germany and Japan, as well as two countries in Europe and one in Africa that the diplomats would not name.

In Washington, CIA Director George Tenet confirmed that Khan was at the center of the nuclear black market. He said US and British intelligence had been tracking its movements for years.

"His network was shaving years off the nuclear weapons development timelines of several states, including Libya," Tenet said in a speech, adding that now "Khan and his network have been dealt a crushing blow."

Pakistan -- and Khan -- became the focus of international investigation on the basis of information Libya and Iran gave the IAEA about where they covertly bought nuclear technology that can be used to make weapons.

In Islamabad, President Pervez Musharraf said the IAEA was welcome to come and discuss the proliferation issue. "We are open and we will tell them everything," Musharraf said.

Still, Musharraf said Pakistan wouldn't submit to any UN supervision of its weapons program, and that no documents would be handed over to the IAEA. He also ruled out an independent investigation of the military's role in spreading nuclear technology.

Pakistan, which did not sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, is not obliged to submit its nuclear weapons activity to outside scrutiny.

Musharraf also pardoned Khan, heading off any trial that could have uncovered revelations about government and military involvement.

In the nuclear procurement chain headed by Khan, hundreds of millions of dollars are thought to have changed hands over the past 15 years.

Among items bought by Libya were engineer's drawings of a nuclear weapon, now under IAEA seal in the United States.

One of the diplomats said that drawing appeared to be of Chinese design but cautioned against assuming it came directly from China.

"There are no fingerprints on the drawings which lead you to any specific country," he said.

China is widely assumed to have been Pakistan's key supplier of much of the clandestine nuclear technology that Khan used to publicly establish Pakistan as a nuclear power in 1998. ElBaradei said he was not aware of covert weapons development in countries other than Libya, Iran and North Korea. But one diplomat said the success of the network -- as measured by the nuclear weapons blueprint and high-tech enrichment equipment sold to Libya -- were cause for alarm.

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