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Context of 'Spring 1981: Congressman Writes to Secretary of State Promising Fight over Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons Program'

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Congressman Alan Cranston (D-CA) writes to Secretary of State Alexander Haig about signals that the Reagan administration is preparing to turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program in return for Pakistani support against the Soviet Union. Details of the deal are already being leaked, and there are rumors the aid for Pakistan will even include F-16 fighters. “I view our nation’s leadership in international nuclear non-proliferation efforts as a central component of our national security program,” Cranston writes. He adds that without much digging he has learned that “the Pakistanis—through continued purchases of sensitive hardware and dual use technology in Europe—have achieved swift progress towards making their new reprocessing plant operational and have continued development of larger reprocessing and enrichment plants.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 80-81]

Entity Tags: Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Alan Cranston

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

Pakistan Foreign Minister Agha Shahi and General Khalid Arif visit Washington to discuss the new Reagan administration’s plans for the Soviet-Afghan War. The new administration is aware that Pakistani support is crucial if it wants to keep up US aid to anti-communist fighters in Afghanistan. However, the Pakistanis impose a number of conditions on their participation, one of which is that the US does not complain about Pakistan’s nuclear weapons development program. According to former State Department official Dennis Kux, Shahi and Arif tell US Secretary of State Alexander Haig that Pakistan will not compromise on its nuclear program. Haig replies that if Pakistan conducts a nuclear test, this will cause trouble in Congress and “make it difficult to cooperate with Pakistan in the way that the Reagan administration hoped.” However, if Pakistan does not perform a test, the nuclear program “need not become a centerpiece of the US-Pakistani relationship.” State Department South Asia specialist James Coon will comment that there is “a tacit understanding that the Reagan administration could live with Pakistan’s nuclear program as long as Islamabad did not explode a bomb.” [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 118, 248] Over the next few months, Undersecretary of State for Security Assistance James Buckley and other US officials travel back and forth between Washington and Pakistan, in the words of authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, “refining the back-channel deal on the Pakistan nuclear program,” and reassuring the Pakistanis that the Reagan administration will allow their work on the bomb to continue. On one occasion, Arif meets Buckley and they discuss the sale of F-16 fighters to Pakistan. Arif then raises the nuclear issue, but, Arif will later say, “The Americans suggested there was no need to talk about Pakistan’s [nuclear] program any more.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 88-89]

Entity Tags: Khalid Mahmud Arif, James Buckley, Dennis Kux, Alexander M. Haig, Jr., Agha Shahi, James Coon

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

President George H. W. Bush nominates his former foreign policy adviser, Donald Gregg, to become the US Ambassador to South Korea. Gregg is one of the architects of the Contra funding and supply program (see March 17, 1983). Gregg faces some difficulty in his Senate confirmation hearings stemming from his linchpin role in Iran-Contra, with Senator Alan Cranston (R-WY) telling him: “You told the Iran-Contra committee that you and Bush never discussed the Contras, had no expertise on the issue, no responsibility for it, and the details of Watergate-sized scandal involving NSC staff and the Edwin Wilson gang [a group of ‘rogue’ CIA agents operating in apparent conjunction with Bush] was not vice presidential. Your testimony on that point is demonstrably false. There are at least six memos from Don Gregg to George Bush regarding detailed Contra issues.” But Cranston is the only member of the committee to vote against Gregg’s confirmation. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 12/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Edwin Wilson, Contras, George Herbert Walker Bush, Donald Gregg, Alan Cranston

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

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