U.S. puts sanctions on Chinese firms for aiding Tehran

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Several Chinese companies involved in selling missile goods and chemical-arms materials to Iran have been hit with U.S. sanctions, Bush administration officials said yesterday.

The sanctions cover six Chinese government-run companies, two Indian firms and one Austrian company, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The penalties have been under consideration since April and were approved by Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick within the past several weeks.

An announcement will be published in the U.S. government’s Federal Register in the next several days — and perhaps as early as today, the officials said.

The sanctions were imposed under the Iran Nonproliferation Act, which Congress passed in 2000 to deter international support for Iran’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and missile-delivery systems.

The penalties, which will last until December 2007, bar the companies from doing business with the U.S. government and prohibit U.S. firms from obtaining export licenses to sell sensitive products to these companies. The details of the transfers to Iran were not disclosed.

The sanctions are part of a more aggressive policy aimed at identifying foreign companies engaged in helping rogue states gain access to weapons technology. So far, 40 companies and people have been punished since 2001.

They come as the United States and Europe consider whether to seek U.N. Security Council action on Iran’s covert nuclear arms programs. Iran has violated International Atomic Energy Agency commitments by denying access to numerous nuclear-related facilities. The U.S. government suspects oil-rich Iran is building nuclear weapons under the cover of producing civilian facilities for generating electrical power.

These latest sanctions show that China is continuing to support the missile and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs of states that support international terrorism.

“We think these transfers helped [Iran’s] ballistic missile and WMD programs,” a senior official said.

Beijing has denied U.S. reports that the government or any of its companies have supplied missile- or weapons-related goods and technology to Iran and other rogue states and, in 2004, denounced a previous round of sanctions as “wrong.”

A Chinese Embassy spokesman could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The Chinese companies involved in the transfers are the China National Aerotechnology Import Export Corp., known as CATIC; the missile exporter China North Industries Corp., known as NORINCO; Zibo Chemet Equipment Co.; the Hongdu Aviation Industry Group; Ounion International Economic and Technical Cooperative Ltd.; and the Limmt Metallurgy and Minerals Co.

The officials said that three of the Chinese companies have been sanctioned in the past for illicit arms transfers — CATIC, NORINCO and Zibo.

“NORINCO is a serial proliferator,” one official said. “All these sanctions are for transfers to Iran.”

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