ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan said China will help build two more nuclear power plants in the energy-starved Muslim nation, tightening its bonds with Beijing as rising militant violence strains its antiterror alliance with the United States.
The nuclear agreement was among a dozen economic cooperation accords signed during President Asif Ali Zardari's recent visit to Beijing, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Saturday.
While Qureshi gave few details, enhanced cooperation with China will likely help ease Pakistan's resentment of a recent deal allowing U.S. businesses to sell nuclear fuel, technology and reactors to neighboring archrival India.
U.S. officials, including Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, who held talks in Islamabad on Saturday, have rejected Pakistani calls for equal treatment — usually with reference to Pakistan's past history of leaking sensitive nuclear secrets.
The Pakistan-China deal, however, comes as Russia is helping to build a nuclear plant in Iran, highlighting the growing nuclear foothold each of the big three rivals have in three strategic countries stretching from the Persian Gulf to South Asia.
Chinese leaders "do recognize Pakistan's need, and China is one country that at international forums has clearly spoken against the discriminatory nature" of the U.S.-India pact, Qureshi said at a news conference.
China, a major investor and arms supplier for Pakistan, shares Islamabad's fierce regional rivalry with India.
China already has helped Pakistan build a nuclear power plant at Chashma, about 125 miles southwest of the capital. Work on a second nuclear plant is in progress and is expected to be completed in 2011.
The Chashma III and Chashma IV reactors would provide Pakistan with an additional 680 megawatts of generating capacity, Qureshi said. He did not say when they would be built or what assistance China would provide.
Qureshi also did not discuss if any measures are in place to prevent nuclear materials from the new plants from being diverted to Pakistan's atomic weapons program.
Pakistan, which began operating its first nuclear power station with Canadian assistance in 1972, has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the main international agreement meant to stem the spread of nuclear weapons technology.
However, it has placed several of its civilian reactors under International Atomic Energy Authority safeguards.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry had no immediate comment on Qureshi's remarks.
However, ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Thursday that China, which signed the treaty in the 1990s, was willing to continue helping Pakistan with its nuclear programs — provided they are peaceful, in line with its international commitments and supervised by the IAEA.
Pakistan's nuclear program remains a sore topic with Washington because of its record of proliferation.
International sanctions were slapped on Pakistan after it detonated its first nuclear charges in 1998 in response to similar tests by India. The sanctions were eased after former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf agreed to help Washington hunt down al-Qaida terrorists responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.
But the revelation in 2004 that the architect of Islamabad's nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, had passed nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea set back Pakistan's hopes of becoming a trusted member of the world's exclusive nuclear club.