May 30, 2008— -- The Pakistani scientist blamed for running a rogue network that sold nuclear secrets to North Korea, Iran and Libya has recanted his confession, telling ABC News the Pakistani government and President Perez Musharraf forced him to be a "scapegoat" for the "national interest."
"I don't stand by that," Dr. A.Q. Khan told ABC News in a 35-minute phone interview from his home in Islamabad, where he has been detained since "confessing" that he ran the nuclear network on his own, without the knowledge of the Pakistani government. The interview will be broadcast Friday on "World News With Charles Gibson."
It was his first interview with an American journalist in a series of telephone interviews he has granted this week, marking the 10th anniversary of Pakistan's first test of a nuclear bomb.
"People were asking a lot of questions, so I said, 'OK. Let me give an answer,'" Khan told ABC News early Friday, Pakistan time.
As to his widely publicized confession, Khan said he was told by Musharraf that it would get the United States "off our backs" and that he was promised he would be quickly pardoned. "Those people who were supposed to know knew it," Khan said about his activities.
If true, it would mean Pakistan lied to the U.S. and the international community about its role in providing nuclear weapons technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya.
A spokesman for the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, D.C. said today the government there hasn't changed its views on Khan despite the claims he makes in the interview, "The government of Pakistan has adequately investigated allegations of nuclear proliferation and considers the AQK affair closed," said a statement from the embassy to ABC News.
A U.S. official said American investigators were also unconvinced of Khan's latest claims. "We have not changed our assessment that A.Q. Khan was a very major and dangerous proliferator. He sold sensitive nuclear equipment and know-how to some genuinely bad actors," the official said.
Khan admitted in the ABC News interview that he had twice traveled to North Korea but denied ever going to Iran or Libya.
Khan said the North Korean nuclear weapons program was "well-advanced" before he arrived, as part of an officially sanctioned trip by his government.
As to Iran, he said he believed it would be a "long time" before that country would be able to test a nuclear weapon.
Khan said it was ridiculous to suppose that al Qaeda or Osama bin Laden would be able to build or acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan. "How can people who live in a cave hope to do that?" he said.
After his 2004 confession, Pakistani President Musharraf refused to allow U.S. or international experts to question Khan.
"It's none of their bloody business," said Khan, who insisted he would never discuss his past activities with any U.S. investigators.
Khan says he remains under guard and unable to leave his home, other than for medical reasons. "Health is not so good. I have been through a lot of difficulties. You know I had prostate cancer," Khan said.