France backs India-style nuclear deal for Pakistan

Fri May 15, 2009 9:46pm IST

* Sarkozy wants India-style nuclear deal for Pakistan

* Pakistan rejects safety concerns over its nuclear arsenal

By Francois Murphy

PARIS, May 15 (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy told his Pakistani counterpart he wanted the Muslim country to have a wide-ranging deal to buy nuclear equipment like the one obtained by its rival India, Pakistan said on Friday.

Such a suggestion would cause uproar in the international community because a Pakistani scientist was at the centre of the world's biggest nuclear proliferation scandal, raising fears that sensitive technology could leak out once again.

"France has agreed to transfer civilian nuclear technology to Pakistan ... They have agreed that Pakistan should be treated like India," Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told reporters after his country's president met Sarkozy.

"President Sarkozy said, and I quote him, 'What can be done for India can be done for Pakistan as well.' This is a major development," Qureshi said after the meeting in Paris between Sarkozy and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

An official in Sarkozy's office said France wanted Pakistan to improve its nuclear security but did not comment on the idea of an India-style deal.

"The president confirmed that we are prepared ... to cooperate with Pakistan in the area of nuclear safety," he said.

The 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which was created after India tested its first nuclear weapon in 1974 and seeks to prevent nuclear technology from falling into the wrong hands, agreed in September to lift a ban on nuclear trade with India.

The waiver, which was won after years of lobbying by the United States, paved the way for a U.S.-India nuclear deal under which India can receive sensitive nuclear technology even though it has not signed up to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Supporters of the deal say that it will help meet India's booming electricity needs, but its critics say it gives India all the benefits of NPT membership but hardly any of the obligations, and rewards it for developing the atom bomb.

Qureshi dismissed concerns about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and its proliferation history. Like India, Pakistan has also not signed up to the NPT.

"We will assure the world that we are an important and a responsible nuclear power and we can handle these matters without threatening or endangering anyone," he said.

Scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, revered by many Pakistanis as the father of the country's nuclear bomb, confessed to selling nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya in 2004.

He was pardoned at the time by the government, and put under house arrest, but Pakistan's High Court declared Kahn free in February, ending his five-year confinement.

Pakistan has never given the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, direct access to Khan.

"Pakistan has no issues with the IAEA. We are willing to give international guarantees. We want the world to feel secure, and Pakistan will give all necessary guarantees," Qureshi said when asked about the feasibility of a Pakistani nuclear deal. (Editing by Jon Boyle)

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