Architect of Pakistani nuclear program, A.Q. Khan, released from virtual house arrest

Authorities have eased the virtual house arrest imposed on A.Q. Khan, the disgraced scientist who sold Pakistan's nuclear secrets to Iran, North Korea and Libya, officials said Monday.

In his first public comment for years, Khan told The Associated Press that he was recovering from treatment for cancer, but declined to discuss other topics.

Khan, the architect of Pakistan's nuclear program, confessed in 2004 to heading an international ring of smugglers that supplied sensitive technology to Iran and others.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf pardoned him while confining him to his tightly guarded villa in the capital, Islamabad. He has been permitted few visitors.

However, two senior government officials told the AP that the restrictions were eased several months ago and that Khan could now meet friends and relatives either at his home or elsewhere in Pakistan.

"He is virtually a free citizen," said one of the officials, who is attached to the nuclear program.

However, the second official said Khan was only allowed to meet associates and relatives on a list approved by authorities and that authorities would continue to provide him with security.

Both asked for anonymity because Khan's case remains sensitive.

Reached by telephone at his residence in an upscale neighborhood of Islamabad, Khan declined to discuss the restrictions.

"I am feeling much better, though I can't say I am 100 percent fit," said Khan, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in August last year.