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U.S. Says Aid Won't Go To Pakistan Nuclear Program

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The Obama administration is confident that Pakistan will not use a planned sharp increase in U.S. aid to strengthen its nuclear arsenal, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said.

"The New York Times" this week reported U.S. lawmakers were told in confidential briefings that Pakistan is rapidly adding to its nuclear capability while fighting a Taliban insurgency, stoking fears in Congress about diversion of U.S. funds.

Militant violence in Pakistan has surged over the past two years, raising doubts about its stability and anxieties about the security of its nuclear arsenal, which is believed to comprise at least 25 to 50 warheads.

The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs on May 20 approved tripling U.S. economic aid to Pakistan to about $1.5 billion a year for each of the next five years, including money for Pakistani schools, the judicial system, parliament, and law enforcement agencies.

The legislation, which will now go to the House floor and would ultimately have to be reconciled with a similar Senate bill, also authorized $400 million in annual military aid for the next five years.

"We are very clear, very firm and quite convinced that none of our aid will in any way affect the efforts of Pakistan regarding their nuclear stockpile," Clinton told U.S. lawmakers without saying whether Pakistan is expanding its arsenal.

"We are absolutely committed not to seeing any diversion of our money," she added.

The Pakistani military, which launched an offensive against the Taliban in the Swat Valley this month, said its soldiers had captured a Taliban stronghold in the village of Sultanwas in Buner district, about 97 kilometers from Islamabad.

Conditions On Aid

The United States views Pakistan as crucial to stabilizing neighboring Afghanistan and to defeating Al-Qaeda militants, who plotted the September 11 attacks while protected by the Afghan Taliban regime then in power.

Many Al-Qaeda militants are since believed to have crossed the border into northern Pakistan.

The House panel sought to put some conditions on the $400 million in military aid, saying that it hinged on Pakistan making progress combating terrorist groups and cooperating on dismantling nuclear weapons material supply networks.

The bill specifically asked for "direct access to Pakistani nationals associated with such networks," a reference to rogue nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan who ran a black market in atomic technology.

After complaints from the Pentagon, the sponsor of the bill, California Democrat Representative Howard Berman, changed its language to make it easier for the president to waive the conditions on military aid.

In addition to the funding making its way through Congress, the United States on May 19 offered Pakistan $110 million to help the estimated 1.5 million people driven from their homes by the fighting between government and Taliban forces in Swat.