Monday, September 15, 2003

The State Department has imposed economic sanctions on a Russian government-owned company for selling advanced weapons to Iran, a country designated as a state sponsor of international terrorism.

The company, Tula KBP, makes a range of advanced weapons including air-defense missiles, antitank weapons and precision-guided munitions. It manufactures the Krasnopol-M laser-guided artillery shell.

The Bush administration earlier this year accused Tula KBP of covertly selling thousands of Kornet antitank missiles to Saddam Hussein’s regime.

As part of the sanctions, the administration waived provisions of U.S. law that would have blocked all U.S. aid to Russia, noting that the assistance is “important to the national interests of the United States.”

U.S. law prohibits providing any assistance to nations that sell lethal military goods to terrorist sponsors. The law also allows the ban to be waived.

It was the first time the State Department identified the recipient of such illegal arms transfers. In the past only the seller has been made public.

The sanctions are not expected to financially harm Tula KBP. The company will be barred from doing business with the U.S. government and will be prohibited from obtaining export licenses to buy U.S. defense goods.

The sanctions will be in place for one year from Aug. 25, 2003, when the weapons transfer to Iran was judged to be a violation of U.S. law.

The sanctions were disclosed yesterday in a Sept. 10 letter from Susan Burk, acting assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, to the Federal Register. They are set to be published today in the Register, where official U.S. announcements are listed.

The letter said the U.S. government has “determined that the government of Russia provided lethal military equipment to countries determined by the secretary of state to be state sponsors of terrorism.”

The country was identified as Iran, one of the six nations listed as state sponsors of terrorism. Iraq was removed from the list in May after the ouster of Saddam. The date of the Russian arms sale to Iran and exact nature of the weapons were not disclosed in the letter.

The CIA’s most recent twice-yearly report to Congress stated that Iran purchased a wide range of advanced conventional arms from Russia in 2002. It estimated that Russian-Iran arms sales are worth about $300 million a year.

The U.S. government protested Moscow’s support for Saddam in April after Tula KBP’s Kornet antitank missiles were found to have been shipped to Iraq. Moscow also supplied Saddam’s regime with electronic jammers and night-vision goggles.

Iraq under Saddam is believed to have obtained some 1,000 Kornets that were smuggled in from Syria.

The missile is considered a threat to U.S. tanks because it has a greater range than the cannons of U.S. tanks and has an armor-penetrating warhead. It also can be outfitted with a thermobaric warhead that creates a large fireball to increase lethality.

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