Pakistan praises China ties, opens second nuclear reactor

  • World
  • Thursday, 12 May 2011

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's prime minister opened the country's second Chinese-made nuclear power reactor on Thursday, praising "unwavering" support from its long-time ally as Pakistan faces pressure over the discovery of Osama bin Laden.

Prickly ties between Pakistan and the United States face new strains after U.S. special forces discovered and killed the world's most wanted man in the town of Abbottabad on May 2.

China, Pakistan's most steadfast ally since its independence from Britain in 1947, has already helped Pakistan build one nuclear power facility in Chashma, in Punjab province.

The new, 330 MW unit is at the Chashma nuclear plant. China is building two more reactors at the same plant.

"It is yet another illustrious example of Pakistan-China cooperation in the field of nuclear science and technology," Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani said in a speech at the plant's inauguration.

"The high level of friendship that the two countries enjoy ... continues to be a source of strength for Pakistan," said Gilani, who is due to visit China next week.

China's nuclear ties with Pakistan are source of concern for Washington, for Pakistan's nuclear-armed rival India and other countries worried about Pakistan's nuclear programme, which includes the development of nuclear weapons.

Pakistan, plagued by a chronic energy shortage and regular power cuts, wants a civilian nuclear agreement with the United States, similar to one the United States struck with India in 2008, to help meet its growing energy needs.

But the United States is reluctant, largely because Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, Abdul Qadeer Khan, admitted in 2004 to transferring nuclear secrets to North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

Gilani did not refer to the United States but called for more international cooperation on nuclear power.

"I ... urge the international community to eliminate discrimination between nations and make this promising technology accessible to Pakistan for peaceful use," he said.

In the absence of a U.S. nuclear agreement, Pakistan depends on China.

Gilani's praise for relations with China also serves as a reminder to the United States that Pakistan has other friends to turn to in the event U.S. anger over the discovery of bin Laden hiding in a Pakistani hill town leads to a diplomatic breakdown.

"They're trying to increase their diplomatic options," said security analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi.

Pakistan is facing U.S. pressure to explain how was it was possible for the world's most wanted man to live undetected in the town of Abbottabad until U.S. special forces mounted a secret helicopter-borne raid from Afghanistan to kill him.

That Pakistani security agency apparently failed to discover him, and its military failed to stop the U.S. raiding team, has led to doubts about the abilities of Pakistan to protect its nuclear weapons.

The government insists the weapons are safe and it would be impossible for militants, or anyone else, to get them.

Pakistan tested nuclear devices in 1998, soon after India conducted similar tests. Both of the south Asian rivals have declined to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

(Additional reporting by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel and Sanjeev Miglani)

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