President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan said yesterday that he believed that a Pakistani nuclear expert who ran the world's largest proliferation ring exported ''probably a dozen'' centrifuges to North Korea to produce nuclear weapons fuel. He added, however, that after two years of interrogations there was still no evidence about whether the expert also gave North Korea a Chinese-origin design to build a nuclear weapon.
General Musharraf's comments, which echo statements he made last month to Japanese reporters, were made in an interview a day before the United States was to reopen talks with North Korea about its nuclear program in Beijing.
The Pakistani leader's comments about the results of the interrogations of the expert, A.Q. Khan, a national hero who is under a loose form of house arrest in Islamabad, are significant because they tend to confirm the accusations American intelligence officials made against North Korea in 2002.
At that time, North Korean officials appeared to confirm that they had secretly started up a second nuclear program to build atomic weapons using uranium technology obtained from Mr. Khan's network, as an alternative to a plutonium program that was frozen under a 1994 agreement with the United States. But ever since, North Korea has denied that a second, secret bomb program exists.
A dozen centrifuges would not be enough to produce a significant amount of bomb-grade uranium. But American officials say they would have enabled North Korea to copy the design and build their own.
The Bush administration has insisted that unless North Korea agrees to give up both programs -- and agrees to a broad program of inspections -- no comprehensive nuclear deal can be reached. North Korea has suggested it may be willing to give up its older plutonium program, based at a huge nuclear complex located at Yongbyon, but has reiterated its denials that it has hidden centrifuges to make bomb-grade uranium.
In a wide-ranging discussion in New York with three journalists from The New York Times, General Musharraf also discussed Pakistan's tentative diplomatic openings toward Israel and its efforts to track down Al Qaeda leaders. He said that the opening to Israel could flourish ''in case there is forward movement'' on negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but he said, ''this is by no means recognition of Israel.''
Despite protests in Pakistan about the new initiative, he insisted that his move had met little opposition among mainstream Muslims in Pakistan, and he is to address a Jewish group for the first time during his visit here. ''What is the harm if I interacted with the Jewish Congress, knowing their influence here?'' he said.
He said it was possible that Osama bin Laden, the Qaeda leader, is still moving between remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan four years after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States. ''I will not negate entirely, with confidence, that he is not there,'' he said. ''But I will never accept anybody who says with confidence that he is there.'' He said later that he often asks, ''Do you have intelligence, have you heard him?''
Mr. bin Laden's whereabouts are a particularly sensitive subject for General Musharraf because Pakistan has been accused by some intelligence officials of doing a lackluster job of pursuing Qaeda suspects, stepping up pressure on them when it suits Pakistani interests but turning down the pressure at other times. He rejected that charge, saying Mr. bin Laden's power is reduced, no matter where he is.
''I do not think he can influence, because he is on the run, hiding,'' General Musharraf said. If Mr. bin Laden is on the Pakistan-Afghan border, he is switching sides ''wherever he sees danger,'' General Musharraf added.
He rejected arguments that Pakistan was halfhearted in its efforts to root out Al Qaeda and remnants of the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan until the American-led war there in 2001. ''We have almost eliminated them from our cities,'' he said. ''We have caught about 700 of them, and we have broken their back in the mountains.'' The groups no longer operate in the valleys of the Afghan border area, he said, ''because we have occupied them.''