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Pentagon says Pakistan nuclear arsenal secure

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal is secure despite political turmoil after the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, the Pentagon said on Friday.

“Our assessment is that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal is under control,” said Pentagon spokesman Col. Gary Keck. “At this time, we have no need for concern.”

Bhutto’s assassination on Thursday plunged Pakistan into crisis, triggering violent protests across her native province of Sindh.

It also helped push oil prices higher, drive the dollar lower and send money into less risky assets such as gold due to the additional political uncertainty in the region.

But U.S. military and defense officials have said Pakistan’s nuclear weapons remain securely under the control of the Pakistani military. Those officials have repeatedly called the Pakistani military a responsible steward of the arsenal and said it would remain out of country’s political conflict.

Concern about the security of the arsenal surfaced in November, when Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf declared a state of emergency, prompting protests and arrests.

Despite the Pentagon’s assurances, some experts and U.S. lawmakers have argued instability raises risks in Pakistan, where the military is still suspected by some of at least knowing about the smuggling activities of Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan network that sold weapons technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

Reporting by Kristin Roberts, editing by David Alexander

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