Jeffrey LewisPakistan HEU Repatriation

Jane Perlez, David E. Sanger and Eric Schmitt highlight in the New York Times a leaked cable from the US Ambassador in Pakistan in June 2009 stating that Pakistan delayed “a visit by U.S. technical experts to discuss logistical and other issues” as part of a plan to remove US-origin spent fuel from a Pakistani research reactor.

Pakistani officials feared “If the local media got word of the fuel removal, ‘they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.'”

Actually, the effort to remove the HEU from the reactor was initially reported in May by Bryan Bender, in the Boston Globe, in May 2009, citing “two administration officials with direct knowledge of the discussions.”

(Why is it so hard for reporters refuse to credit other reporters?)  There was, in fact, an outraged editorial in the Nation decrying Pakistan’s “nuclear surrender” — which included the cartoon atop this post.  Then the hue and cry seems to have died out.  Presumably the arrival of a US technical team would have made this worse.

I mentioned this episode in my paper, Managing the Danger from Pakistan’s Nuclear Stockpile, as an example how well-meaning efforts to enhance security might have perverse effects.  “Although it is easy to understand the U.S. desire to bring some highly enriched uranium to the United States,” I noted, “the current constraints on cooperation reflect the realities of Pakistani politics, for better or for worse.”

Perlez, Sanger and Schmitt opine that the cables “make it clear that underneath public reassurances lie deep clashes over strategic goals” between Pakistan and the United States.  I think that’s right.  On the issue of the danger to Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile, Pakistan looks to the threat from India, while the United States worries about jihadis and rogue elements in the military.  There is no way to resolve that difference, although I think that makes a strong prima facie case for evolving our efforts to manage the danger from Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile to encompass a much broader discussion of strategic stability in Southeast Asia.


  1. G Balachandran (History)

    I am rather confused about this removal of HEU from Pakistan reactors. PARR2 is fueled with HEU supplied by China. So US can hardly expect Pakistan to remove that fuel for tarnsport to China. As for PARR 1 it had been converetd to run on LEU long time ago and in fact the last supply of fuel was reported to have been supplied by US in 2004. So where is HEU in PARR1? As for the spent fuel from the HEU used before, it must have been removed from the reactor long time ago and is under IAEA safeguards anyway and in any case that spent fuel is not bomb material. So what is all this fuss about?