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Chinese firm tied to steel used in Iran nukes
State warned Beijing on sale
Question of the Day
The State Department in 2009 sought the Chinese government’s help in blocking a sale to Iran of 25 tons of specialty steel for Tehran’s defense industry to be used in building nuclear-related centrifuges, according to a classified department cable.
“Post is instructed to inform appropriate-level Chinese officials of this transaction, and request that they investigate the entity and individuals involved,” according to the cable, which is labeled “secret.” It noted that the Chinese were to be told that the company faces sanctions for the proposed sale under U.S. law.
“Given the urgent nature of this nuclear-related transfer, we request that you investigate this transfer and take all necessary measures, consistent with your laws and authorities, to prevent it,” the cable said.
It is not known from the cable whether the shipment of maraging steel, a high-strength metal used in centrifuges and missile components, was transferred to Iran. However, the company involved was indicted in New York three months later, and court papers in that case indicate the steel and other banned goods were sold to Iran.
The cable provides new details on China’s role as a supplier of materials for Iran’s nuclear program. An earlier State Department cable revealed that China helped North Korea ship goods to Iran through Chinese airports.
“What this shows is that China has been a consistent problem in U.S. efforts to tighten the noose around Iran’s nuclear program,” said Gary Milhollin, head of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. “Chinese companies have been a conduit for goods going to Iran.”
China also covertly sold to Pakistan in 1996 specialty ring magnets that U.S. officials later determined were used in the core of that country’s nuclear weapons program, specifically its centrifuges that spin uranium gas into highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.
The Jan. 14, 2009, cable was partially censored by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, which released it Friday.
However, the identities of the sellers and buyers involved in the 25-ton deal for maraging steel were disclosed in an April 2009 indictment by New York City’s district attorney of a Chinese metallurgical production company called LIMMT and its owner, Li Fangwei.
The cable stated that U.S. intelligence agencies had learned of an Iranian agent linked to Iran's Defense Industries Organization (DIO) who was “making arrangements with [a] Chinese entity … to purchase maraging steel.”
“The steel was to be partially machined in order to disguise it as mechanical parts in order to evade Chinese customs officials,” the cable said, noting that the export was controlled by the Nuclear Suppliers Group, an international organization that seeks to limit exports of products that can be used in nuclear-weapons development.
The cable said U.S. Embassy officials were ordered to supply details of the planned sale to Chinese officials and urge them to “thoroughly investigate the transfer and the entities involved” and share the results.
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About the Author
Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.
He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.
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