The Bush administration has spent almost $100 million in the past six years on a classified program to help Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf secure his country's nuclear weapons, The New York Times reported in Sunday editions.
Citing current and former senior administration officials, the Times said the aid was buried in secret portions of the federal budget and was used to fund training of Pakistani personnel in the United States and construction of a nuclear security training center in Pakistan which is still far from operational.
"Everything has taken far longer than it should," the Times quoted a former official involved in the program as saying. "And you are never sure what you really accomplished."
Recent unrest in Pakistan and questions over Musharraf's staying power have rekindled internal administration debate over the program, the Times said.
Pakistan, locked in regional rivalry with its nuclear-armed neighbor India, emerged as a nuclear power in 1998 when it carried out six underground tests.
Equipment ranging from helicopters and night-vision goggles to nuclear detection equipment was given to Pakistan to help secure its nuclear material, warheads, and laboratories that were "the site of the worst known case of nuclear proliferation in the atomic age," according to the Times.
US officials said they believed the arsenal is safe at present and accept Pakistan's assurances that security has been greatly improved, although Pakistan has often held back on providing details about how or where the equipment is being used.
The newspaper said it knew about facets of the secret program for more than three years through contacts with US officials and nuclear experts, but held off on reporting about it when the Bush administration argued that disclosing it could damage efforts to secure the weapons.
Source: China Daily/Agencies