ISLAMABAD: Pakistan rejected yesterday remarks by the UN nuclear watchdog chief that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal could fall into the hands of Islamist militants, and allayed the fears of a US senator visiting Islamabad.
Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, expressed his fears about Pakistan's nuclear weapons in an interview with the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat.
His comments were widely reported in Pakistani newspapers and echo concerns raised by some US nuclear experts and politicians worried by the militant violence and political turmoil that is rocking the government of President Pervez Musharraf.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry dismissed ElBaradei's remarks as "unwarranted and irresponsible".
"Pakistan rejects the statement by Dr ElBaradei," Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
US Senator Joseph Lieberman, visiting Islamabad separately, said he had been briefed by Khalid Kidwai, a retired general heading up the Strategic Plans Division, and came away convinced that the nuclear arsenal was securely held.
"I was impressed by the specific explanation I had about the system that is in place here," Lieberman said on a visit planned before the December 27 assassination of former premier Benazir Bhutto.
"There are some who have expressed concerns about the security of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal," he said, referring to doubts expressed by the head of the UN nuclear watchdog and others in recent days.
"Overall I felt reassured and I will take that message back to Congress," he added.
Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut, said he had also received assurances from Musharraf a parliamentary election put off until February18 after the killing of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto would go ahead.
Lieberman also met General Ashfaq Kayani and spoke glowingly of the new army chief's approach to fighting an Al Qaeda threat.
The US senator said elections must be seen as fair, but opposition figures he had met during his visit had expressed their distrust.
He said flawed elections would have adverse consequences for both Pakistan internally, and relations with the US.