Page last updated at 01:29 GMT, Friday, 28 March 2008

Pentagon orders nuclear inventory

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. File photo
Mr Gates said the report should be submitted within two months

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has ordered a full inventory of US nuclear arms after parts of ballistic missiles were mistakenly sent to Taiwan.

He said a report, that would also include checks of related materials, should be completed within 60 days.

The US sent nuclear fuse triggers to Taiwan instead of helicopter batteries in 2006. The mistake was only discovered last week.

The arms issue is sensitive as China regards Taiwan as a renegade province.

Beijing vehemently opposes US arms sales to Taiwan and has threatened to attack the island if it declares independence.

Second blunder

On Thursday, Mr Gates also directed a senior navy officer to carry out an investigation into the mistaken delivery of the fuses.

Earlier this week, the Pentagon said no nuclear materials had been shipped and the parts had been returned to the US.

Taiwan had pointed out the error, but owing to a two-year miscommunication the US administration remained unaware of it until last week.

The shipment had been sent from a US airbase in Wyoming.

It has caused a major embarrassment to the Pentagon, says the BBC's Jonathan Beale in Washington.

China has expressed its "strong displeasure".

Detail of the mistaken shipment is the second blunder to emerge in recent months.

Last August, a B-52 bomber flew across several US states mistakenly armed with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

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