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U.S. discussing deal to limit Pakistan's nuclear arsenal

"The United States and Pakistan are regularly engaged in a dialogue about the importance of nuclear security," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

By Doug G. Ware
U.S. discussing deal to limit Pakistan's nuclear arsenal
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Thursday discusses ongoing talks between the United States and Pakistan regarding a possible deal to limit Islamabad's nuclear arsenal during a press briefing. Some U.S. officials are concerned that the nation might be close to deploying a small tactical nuclear weapon. Photo by The White House

WASHINGTON, Oct. 15 (UPI) -- Three months after striking a deal to restrict Iran's nuclear program, the Obama administration confirmed Thursday it is now working toward a nuclear accord with Pakistan to limit its arsenal, the White House said.

With Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif due to visit the White House next week, administration officials said they have already started talks that could ultimately govern the scale of what some experts say is the world's fastest-growing nuclear arsenal.

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Such a deal, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, is based on U.S. concerns Pakistan could be on the verge of deploying a small tactical nuclear weapon -- very similar to those placed in Europe by the United States during the Cold War to deter Soviet aggression.

The details given by the White House, which before Thursday had declined to address any potential talks with Pakistan, indicated both sides are still in the early stages of a possible deal.

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"There has been a lot of public speculation about this," Earnest said during Thursday's press briefing. "At this point, the United States has been engaged with Pakistan, as well as the rest of the international community, on issues related to nuclear safety and security."

Earnest said the current climate of discussions between Washington and Islamabad are not at a level where officials might expect a deal to be reached by the time of Sharif's White House visit Oct. 22.

"I would not be overly excited about the prospects of reaching the kind of agreement that is being speculated about publicly," he said.

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Sources told The New York Times that striking the type of agreement the Obama administration wants is unlikely for a while, partly because Pakistani officials view their nuclear arsenal as their only real defense against neighboring India.

The goal of a deal with Pakistan is similar, but different in structure, to the deal the Obama administration reached with Iran in July.

"The United States and Pakistan are regularly engaged in a dialogue about the importance of nuclear security, and I would anticipate that dialogue would include conversations between the leaders of our two countries," Earnest said.

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"If Pakistan would take the actions requested by the United States, it would essentially amount to recognition of rehabilitation and would essentially amount to parole," George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told the Times. "I think it's worth a try, but I have my doubts that the Pakistanis are capable of doing this."

The talks between the two nations are the first in a decade, since Abdul Qadeer Khan -- one of the founders of Pakistan's nuclear program -- was caught shopping the nuclear technology on the global black market to nations like Iran, North Korea and Libya.

Current Pakistani officials, though, have said they knew nothing of Khan's black market activities.

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The discussions are being led on the U.S. side by a longtime Pakistani intelligence expert who is now on the National Security Council, the Times report said.

While many U.S. officials are confident Pakistan's larger nuclear weapons are secure, some fear the smaller tactical weapons create more potential for disaster.

"All it takes is one commander with secret radical sympathies, and you have a big problem," one former official who dealt with the issue told the Times.

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