Newly Declassified Documents Show Illegal Network Had Islamabad's "Approval, Protection, and Funding"
Reagan White House Chose Afghan War over Nonproliferation Enforcement
Washington, D.C., November 22, 2013 – The arrest of a Pakistani national, Arshed Pervez in July 1987 on charges of illegal nuclear procurement roiled U.S.-Pakistan relations and sharpened divisions within the Reagan administration, according to recently declassified documents published today by the National Security Archive and the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) director Kenneth Adelman wanted to crack down on the Pakistani nuclear program by cutting military and economic aid; Adelman argued that failure to do so "would be seen as 'business as usual,'" taking the pressure off Pakistan "at the very time we should be trying to increase pressure on them to stop ... illegal procurement activities in the US." By contrast, the State Department took a contrary view because U.S. aid to Pakistan supported the mujahidin in Afghanistan: "We are particularly concerned about weakening the President's hand in discussions with the Soviets on Afghanistan, which [are] at a critical stage."
Pervez, who had tried to bribe a Customs official to get an export license, sought to purchase high strength maraging steel, uniquely suited for gas centrifuge enrichment technology, and quantities of beryllium for his country's covert nuclear program. This arrest and then an indictment in California on another case made headlines in the United States. Adelman wanted President Reagan to invoke the Solarz amendment (after then-Rep. Stephen Solarz, D-NY), which required an aid cut-off in the event that governments receiving U.S. aid or their agents illegally tried to procure material that could be used for a nuclear weapons program. Reagan, however, refused to invoke the Solarz amendment. Although Pervez would be found guilty, the White House kept U.S. aid flowing to Islamabad for reasons of "national security."
For the Reagan administration, aiding the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan trumped nonproliferation policy interests. The high priority given to a close U.S.-Pakistan relationship may have encouraged, as some journalists have alleged, State Department officials to warn the Pakistanis of the imminent arrest of their agents. Indeed, a key figure in the A. Q. Khan nuclear procurement network, Inam Ul-Haq, who was working closely with Pervez, evaded arrest by slipping out of the United States at the last minute. A few weeks later, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Michael Armacost explained to Pakistani dictator General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq that State had unsuccessfully tried to get information about the Customs Bureau's investigation of Perez, but "we did alert the GOP [Government of Pakistan] through letters, Ambassador Hinton, and our talks with the Foreign Minister that there was an issue here that needed to be addressed urgently." "I understand the idea of warning, Zia replied." Future declassifications may elucidate exactly what these urgent alerts amounted to.
The Pervez case demonstrates how U.S. government agencies, including the Customs Bureau and ACDA, sought to monitor and disrupt Pakistan's nuclear procurement activities. For its part, the Reagan White House used loopholes in U.S. nonproliferation laws to avoid the enforcement of sanctions on Pakistan. The documents published today illustrate these and related developments. They include: read more>>>