US diplomatic cables released on Sunday show that since 2007 the United States has been engaged in a secret effort to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani research reactor. According to the documents released by a whistle-blowing website called Wiki-Leaks, the US administration authorised this effort because American officials feared the material could be diverted for use in an illicit nuclear device.

One cable quotes Saudi King Abdullah as saying that President Asif Ali Zardari was “the greatest obstacle” to Pakistan’s progress. “When the head is rotten,” he said, “it affects the whole body”.

In May 2009, US Ambassador Anne W. Patterson reported to the State Department that Pakistan was refusing to schedule a visit by American technical experts because, as a Pakistani official said, “if the local media got word of the fuel removal they certainly would portray it as the United States taking Pakistan’s nuclear weapons”.

Cables sent by the US Embassy in Islamabad to the State Department also talk of “grave fears in Washington and London over the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons programme” amid the country’s growing instability.

They depict the Obama administration struggling to sort out which Pakistanis are trustworthy partners against Al Qaeda, and “assessing whether a lurking rickshaw driver in Lahore was awaiting fares or conducting surveillance of the road to the American Consulate”.

WikiLeaks, a site devoted to leaking government documents, apparently received hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables from an anti-war activist who got access to the secret files due to a glitch in the computer system.

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