*Meanwhile, in the background…*
WASHINGTON (AFP) — Faced with a surge of Islamic militant activity in Pakistan, the US government is increasingly concerned about the potential vulnerability of the country’s nuclear arsenal, The New York Times has reported.
Citing unnamed officials, the newspaper late on Sunday said the administration of President Barack Obama is worried about the potential for militants to snatch a weapon in transport or to insert sympathizers into laboratories or fuel-production facilities.
The officials emphasized that there was no reason to believe that the arsenal, most of which is deployed south of Islamabad, was facing an imminent threat, the report said.
But the United States does not know where exactly all of Pakistan’s nuclear sites are located, and its concerns have intensified in the last two weeks, after Taliban fighters entered Buner, a district just 60 miles from the capital, the paper said.
According to The Times, the insurgency has left US officials less willing to accept blanket assurances from Pakistan that the weapons are safe.
But the Pakistanis have continued to rebuff American requests for more details about the location and security of the country’s nuclear sites, the report noted.
Some of the Pakistani reluctance stemmed from longstanding concern that the United States might be tempted to seize or destroy Pakistan’s arsenal if the insurgency spread further, according to the paper.
But the officials said the US government had not yet engaged the most senior officials of the Pakistani government on the issue, The Times said.
That may begin this week as Obama meets at the White House with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on Wednesday, the report said.
“We are largely relying on assurances, the same assurances we have been hearing for years,” The Times quotes one senior official as saying. “The worse things get, the more strongly they hew to the line, “Don’t worry, we’ve got it under control.”