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U.S. Freezes Pakistan Aid Over Nuclear Issue : Asia: Assistance totaling $564 million is suspended as Washington reviews Islamabad’s suspected weapons program.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

About half a billion dollars a year in U.S. military and economic aid to Pakistan has been frozen and payments cannot be resumed until the Islamabad government curtails programs that seem to be intended to produce nuclear weapons, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said the Bush Administration is reviewing Pakistan’s nuclear program, and Capitol Hill sources said it is almost inconceivable that Congress would allow the aid to resume unless major changes occur.

Under U.S. law, no aid can be sent to Pakistan unless the President certifies each year that Islamabad is not trying to acquire nuclear weapons. For the first time since the requirement was imposed in 1985, President Bush declined to make such a certification this year, forcing a suspension of aid with the start of the new fiscal year Oct. 1.

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In previous years, the Reagan and Bush administrations have issued the needed certification, despite accusations in Congress that Pakistan was trying to develop and test a nuclear device to match one exploded by India in 1974.

U.S. officials were reluctant to take any action that would damage the longstanding U.S.-Pakistan relationship, especially at a time when covert American assistance to anti-government guerrillas in Afghanistan was being channeled through Pakistan.

The Administration had requested $564 million in combined economic and military assistance to Pakistan for 1991. For fiscal 1990, which ended Sept. 30, the combined total was $581 million. The aid program for Pakistan has been the U.S. government’s third-largest, following the packages for Israel and Egypt.

Tutwiler said that Secretary of State James A. Baker III informed Pakistani Foreign Minister Sahabzada Yaqub Khan that U.S. law will not allow continuation of the aid programs under current circumstances.

“The secretary reiterated our view of the need for a comprehensive approach to dealing with nonproliferation issues in the region,” Tutwiler said. “The Pakistani nuclear program remains under review.”

Tutwiler, who sat in on the meeting Tuesday between Baker and Yaqub Khan, provided few details. But she left little doubt that Yaqub Khan provided no assurances that would allow Bush to lift the suspension.

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When Tutwiler was asked why the Administration had not provided more public evidence of its concern with the Pakistani program, she said: “Well, how about the evidence that the certification wasn’t (made) on Oct. 1?”

The U.S. government is in a better tactical position to deal firmly with Pakistan than in the past because the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan has reduced the importance of the Islamabad government as a bridge between the United States and the Afghan rebels.

On a related matter, Tutwiler said the State Department has never received an application for an export license to sell to Pakistan high-temperature furnaces needed for the manufacture of nuclear arms. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Pakistan had tried, without success, to obtain such equipment from an American company.

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