KIEV | Recent developments in Iran confirm that China is providing Tehran with critical defense technologies and weapons systems, including some that violate stated Chinese policies aimed at preventing nuclear proliferation.
The disclosure of Chinese military aid comes as the Obama administration is trying to persuade Beijing to join other members of the U.N. Security Council, European Union member states and major non-aligned states such as Brazil to adopt a new set of tough sanctions to punish Iran for its nuclear-arms program.
Proliferation of defense industrial know-how and brain power from Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics to Iran — specifically advanced anti-ship missiles, nuclear technology and ballistic-missile designs — has been at the top of U.S. government concerns since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
One of the more recent issues is the expected delivery to Iran of state-of-the-art Almaz-Antei S-300 air-defense missiles systems under a contract originally signed in 2005 between Teheran and Russia’s Rosoboronexport (ROE), the state-run arms-export agency.
The U.S., Israel and others have objected to Russian S-300 deliveries on the grounds that the missiles will significantly improve Iran’s surface-to-air missile network and reduce the chances — if deemed necessary at some point — of successful air strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities.
Iran has made little effort to disguise what analysts say is a modern-day “underground railroad” of Russian and Ukrainian scientists who traveled to the Islamic state on what were officially deemed “tourist” visits or to attend scientific conferences with benign themes.
In reality, the scientists are engaged in assisting numerous Iranian weapons-development programs.
A CIA report to Congress made public in 2009 states that assistance from Chinese and Russian entities “has helped Iran move toward self-sufficiency in the production of ballistic missiles.”
Some of this Russian assistance has produced results for Iran, such as the Shafaq fighter/attack aircraft, which has been traced back to aircraft designs developed many years before at the Mikoyan Design Bureau and other aeronautical research centers of the former Soviet Union.
But, over the longer term, Moscow’s most significant contribution was encouraging Western nations to concentrate inordinately on the proliferation of people, technology, equipment and skills from Russia and Ukraine to Iran.
The diversion has made it easier for China to supply the Iranians with a number of weapons — and the industrial capacity to manufacture them — without drawing much attention.
Last week, Iran’s naval forces announced test firings of two basic models of anti-ship missiles — a short-range design called the Nasr-1 and Nasr-2 (the two different designs use different types of guidance systems), and a longer-range missile called the Nour.
According to reports from both the Iranian IRIB TV news network and the pro-government Borna news agency, the Nasr-1 and -2 missiles are not only in service with the Iranian military, but there is now a production line in Iran that has the country’s Aerospace Industries Organization turning these weapons out in large numbers.
The Nour, which has a range greater than 60 miles, is also produced in Iran and analysts said there is a new version of the missile in development with triple the current range.
According to missile specialists, both weapons were originally developed and built in China, and have been advertised as being in service with the Chinese armed forces.