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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The United States is standing by key ally Pakistan after the father of its nuclear weapons program admitted he had shared nuclear secrets with other nations.
In a stunning admission on national television, Abdul Qadeer Khan on Wednesday apologized for transferring nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya, following a whirlwind of allegations against him.
Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, who is considered a national hero, said he acted alone, and the government was not involved.
But the admission has alarmed diplomats around the world, who say this is just the tip of the iceberg of a nuclear black market.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog and Western diplomats have warned Reuters news agency the nuclear black market used by Khan may be far bigger than initially feared.
But for its part, the United States is standing shoulder to shoulder with Islamabad on the issue.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Wednesday the United States will work closely with Pakistan to win the war on terrorism.
"We appreciate their efforts to address what is a serious concern, which is proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."
Iran and North Korea, two of the countries that Khan says received technology from him, made up part of the "axis of evil" invoked by U.S. President George W. Bush in his 2002 State of the Union address. Iraq was the third.
Nayyar Zaidi, Washington bureau chief of Pakistan's Daily Jang newspaper, told CNN Thursday the United States knew that without the support of Pakistan, it was impossible to fight terrorism in the region.
Zaidi told CNN Thursday he believed Khan had made the "supreme sacrifice."
American officials won't publicly discuss suspicions the Pakistani government was involved in the technology transfer.
But privately, some western diplomats say they suspect Pakistani officials may have been involved.
Khan's admission came after he met with President Pervez Musharraf and followed days of speculation about his activities after he was sacked as a government adviser Saturday.
After being confronted with government evidence that Pakistani technology was given to Iran, North Korea and Libya over more than two decades, Khan responded on Wednesday by saying:
"Much of it is true," Khan said. "I have much to answer for."
Khan expressed "the deepest sense of sorrow and anguish," saying he knew the actions had jeopardized Pakistan's national security.
A government statement said Khan "accepts full responsibility for all the proliferation activities which were conducted by him during the period in which he was at the helm of affairs at Khan Research Laboratories."
Khan founded the lab in the 1970s and headed it until retiring in 2001.
Khan is waiting to hear his fate and has asked for clemency. Pakistan's cabinet is meeting on Thursday to discuss his plea, and Musharraf has called a news conference for later in the day, where he is expected to announce what action will be taken.
Khan has been kept under tight security at his home in Islamabad.
Khan's alleged admissions have shocked many in Pakistan, and raised questions about how he could have spread nuclear technology without the consent of the military -- which has often ruled Pakistan since the country gained independence from Britain in 1947.
"It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong."--Voltaire
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