LONDON, Nov 17 (Reuters) - President Pervez Musharraf, defending his decision to declare emergency rule, has said Pakistan's nuclear weapons will not be allowed to fall into the wrong hands while the military is in control of them.
The comments, in a BBC interview broadcast today, come as US envoy John Negroponte visited Pakistan to put pressure on Musharraf to revoke the two-week-old emergency, make peace with opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and hold fair elections.
Musharraf said if elections were held in a 'disturbed environment'', it could bring in dangerous elements who might endanger Pakistan's ''strategic assets''.
''They cannot fall into the wrong hands, if we manage ourselves politically. The military is there -- as long as the military is there, nothing happens to the strategic assets, we are in charge and nobody does anything with them,'' he said.
Pakistan's foreign ministry said later that Musharraf had not meant there was any danger that the weapons could fall into the wrong hands.
''He had argued that because the military organisation is responsible for their safety and security, our strategic assets are totally secure and in no danger of falling in wrong hands,'' a statement from the foreign ministry said.
Musharraf, who took power in a coup eight years ago, cited rising Islamist militancy and a hostile judiciary as reasons for declaring emergency rule. He has said a general election will be held before January 9 and he expects to step down as army chief and be sworn in as a civilian president beforehand.
In the interview conducted yesterday, Musharraf dismissed opposition leader Bhutto's chances of winning elections.
He blamed Bhutto, who has called for him to relinquish power, for ruining chances of a deal which would see her serving as prime minister under his presidency.
''She disturbed the entire environment. She comes on a total confrontationalist approach,'' Musharraf said of Bhutto, who returned from eight years of self exile last month to lead her Pakistan People's Party in elections.
Bhutto, who was freed after three days of house arrest shortly before Negroponte's arrival, has said she does not trust Musharraf to allow her party a clear run and wants the Election Commissioner replaced.
But Musharraf, who referred to Bhutto as ''the darling of the West'', said it was the opposition and judges who had been interfering with the democratic process.
''It is she actually who may not be wanting elections in Pakistan and it is she who may want to go on to the agitational mode because her party is not in a state to win at all,'' he said.
''Therefore, I will certainly go for the election despite of any agitation by her.'' He promised political opponents would be released from house arrest ''in a few days'' but said he was considering all options regarding holding elections under emergency rule.
REUTERS PY VC2041