White House Won't Say if Bush Brought Up A.Q. Khan to Musharraf

One day after the Washington Post carried reviews of no less than three new books about Dr. A.Q. Khan, Bush Administration-watchers are increasingly asking:  did the President bring up possible U.S. questioning of the father of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb and pivotal player in supplying nuclear technology to Iran and North Korea when he spoke to embattled Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf two weeks ago?

Going back to the 1970’s, Abdul Qadeer Khan has been the key figure in his country acquiring a nuclear bomb through stolen technology and black market sales.  Worshipped as a national hero in his home country, Dr. Khan has also, according to biographers Douglas Frantz and Catherine Collins, “played a pivotal role in helping Iran start what we increasingly fear is a clandestine nuclear arms program, allowing Tehran to make significant progress in the shadows before its efforts were uncovered in 2002.  He gave key uranium-enrichment technology to North Korea.  And if all this weren’t enough, he was busily outfitting Libya with a full bomb-making factory when his network was finally shut down in late 2003.”

Given that President Bush backing of Musharraf is extremely critical at a time Pakistan’s President is under intense international criticism for declaring martial law and jailing opponents, is it not out of line for Mr. Bush to request that U.S. intelligence agents be permitted to interrogate the diabolical nuclear avatar, now under house arrest (or, as one wag put it, “mansion arrest”) since ’04, over just who far Iran has gone toward developing a nuclear bomb, courtesy of Dr. Khan’s secrets?  As Frantz and Collins concluded in a recent Washington Post editorial, “Bush has never seriously squeezed Musharraf over Khan.”

At a briefing for White House reporters November 14, I broached the subject of A.Q. Khan with Press Secretary Dana Perino and asked whether the President had discussed in his phone call with Musharaff the rogue scientist and just how far along Iran was in developing a nuclear arsenal.  “We have not provided any detail about that conversation,” Perino told me.