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WikiLeaks Reveals Uranium Left in Unprotected Storage in Pakistan

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As the WikiLeaks cables just released this past weekend are parsed and reviewed the ones involving Pakistan [1] are most revealing.

The American ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson sent a cable in May 2009 telling of her concern about a stockpile of highly enriched uranium in unprotected storage near a nuclear reactor which she believed could be stolen by extremists and used to make a dirty bomb.

The cables revealed a joint agreement between the U.S. and Pakistan that had been reached two years earlier that would permit the U.S. to remove the spent uranium fuel. The uranium in question [2] was delivered to Pakistan in the 1960's under an "Atoms for Peace" program to be used for medical isotopes and scientific research [3] , (it was not anticipated at that time Pakistan would later develop nuclear weapons). However by the time of Patterson's cable Pakistan believed the publicity over   its nuclear arsenal was being sensationalized in the media and for domestic political reasons couldn't let the Americans remove the uranium as the Pakistani press would report such a transfer as allowing the U.S. to take away its nuclear weapons [4] (the latter being a source of pride to the Pakistani's and a deterrent against a nuclear India, its arch enemy).      

So to this day, the spent uranium lies unprotected [5] .

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But from here what these cables clearly reveal is the U.S. and Pakistan have different and often times conflicting interests (primarily to the consternation of the U.S.). The U.S. since 9/11 has been obsessed with terrorism and wants Pakistan fully invested in the American led war on terrorism. Pakistan meanwhile under a weak President Zardari and really controlled by the Pakistani military led by General Kayani and the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) has its own ideas and what it considers as being in its national interest. But to placate the Americans Kayani conducts a limited war against some Taliban and al Qaeda elements in Pakistan's tribal areas and "unofficially" permits the U.S. to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorist leaders in these areas. Kayani has even permitted American Special Forces units to accompany Pakistani troops in the tribal areas. [6] For Kayani depends on the billions of American defense dollars that go directly to the Pakistani military so he realizes Pakistan must be seen by the Americans as being on board with America's war on terrorism.

But for Kayani and Pakistan the focus and primary concern is India. And with the Americans developing a closer relationship with India, Pakistan is wary how this development will impact its standoff against its arch rival.

The whole point being these cables reveal the U.S. exercises limited influence over the Pakistan militarily and politically while our war in Afghanistan (and clandestinely in Pakistan) complicates and interferes with what would normally be the rather simple removal of potentially deadly uranium in Pakistan from falling into terrorists hands.

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For without our unnecessary war on terrorism, the war in Afghanistan and the pressures America brings to bear on Pakistan (which destabilizes their political situation and brings increased terrorism to its biggest cities and most populated areas) it could develop economically and become more stable politically without U.S. presence in the region. And there certainly wouldn't be loosely guarded spent uranium waiting to be seized by extremist elements.

We are the creator of what we fear most. That's the underlying message of the WikiLeaks release of these cables.    

[1] "Nuclear Fuel Memos Expose Wary Dance With Pakistan", by Jane Perlez, David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt, "The New York Times", November 30, 2010.

[2] See footnote #1

[3] See footnote #1

[4] See footnote #1

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[5] See footnote #1

[6] See footnote #1


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