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Pakistan seeks to probe nuclear secrets scientist

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan wants to investigate a disgraced scientist on charges of transferring nuclear secrets to Iraq and Iran, a government lawyer said Monday, just before important nuclear talks begin with Washington.

Nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan smiles at the media after his court verdict outside his residence in Islamabad February 6, 2009. REUTERS/Mian Khursheed

The petition by the Pakistan government for court permission to investigate Abdul Qadeer Khan comes days before the opening of strategic talks between the United States and Pakistan, where Islamabad will likely ask for a civilian nuclear deal similar to the one between India and Washington.

“We basically seek permission to see Dr. (Abdul) Qadeer Khan and investigate into the matter as well as restrain him from making any statement and interacting with anybody,” government lawyer Naveed Inayat Malik told Reuters by telephone.

The petition was filed in the Lahore High Court after two articles in the Washington Post, published on March 10 and 14, reported that the Pakistani nuclear scientist had tried to help Iran and Iraq develop nuclear weapons, Malik said.

Those deals allegedly occurred with the knowledge of the Pakistani government. Both the Pakistan government and Khan have denied the reports.

The court adjourned the proceeding until Wednesday after holding a preliminary hearing on the petition on Monday.

Khan’s lawyer Ali Zafar described the government’s move as an attempt to delay the court’s verdict on Khan’s earlier challenge to the restrictions placed by the government on his movements.

The government says the restrictions are for his safety, but Khan says they are unfair limits on his daily life.

The government relaxed restrictions on the country’s once revered nuclear scientist last year, but barred him from talking to the media and required him to travel with security guards.

The father of the south Asian country’s nuclear programme, Khan was at the center of the world’s biggest nuclear proliferation scandal in 2004 when he confessed to selling nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya.

There is widespread belief in Pakistan that he was the victim of an international conspiracy against the country’s nuclear programme. Pakistani authorities deny any connection to Khan’s smuggling ring but have never let foreign investigators question him.

Pakistan, which has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, conducted several nuclear tests in 1998 but is thought to have had the capability to produce bombs from as early as 1986.

Pakistan hopes to bring up the subject of a civilian nuclear deal with the United States at this week’s strategic dialogue in Washington.

There have been signs of a softening of Washington’s stance on the subject, especially given Pakistan’s chronic and severe power shortages leading to hours without electricity every day across much of the country. It is unclear how the new allegations against Khan might affect any deal.

Addtional reporting by Mubasher Bukhari; Editing by Chris Allbritton and Paul Tait