U.S. Fears Chinese Firms Selling WMD Materials to Iran, North Korea

Recently leaked U.S. cables detail Washington’s worries that Chinese firms in recent years had exported goods to Iran that could be used to produce weapons of mass destruction, the London Telegraph reported today (see GSN, Oct. 26, 2009).

The Bush administration was sufficiently worried that Chinese weapons and equipment were reaching Iran that the State Department in September 2008 launched a concerted diplomatic campaign to press Beijing to better administer controls on weapon sales to Tehran, according to the newspaper.

The United States provided information to Italy, Spain and six other “key allies” in order to “persuade China to enforce its export control laws more effectively” and to “aggressively implement” U.N. Security Council resolutions on trade in weapons and related goods, according to a document made available by the transparency group WikiLeaks.

Diplomats were directed to recommend that other governments emphasize to Beijing that weapon exports to Tehran “could ultimately damage China’s reputation and its bilateral relationship” with” the each of the foreign states in question, papers show.

The United States and allied nations suspect Iran has developed its atomic program with the intent of developing nuclear weapons. Tehran says its atomic operations are strictly civilian in nature (Gordon Rayner,London Telegraph I, Feb. 3).

In one case believed, U.S. intelligence believed a Chinese branch of a German company had provided Iran with a test chamber usable in missile development, Washington Times quoted a July 2009 State Department cable as saying.

“Although this particular test chamber is not controlled by the Missile Technology Control Regime, it is suitable for subjecting missile components and systems to the harsh environmental conditions experienced by missiles during launch, flight, and re-entry,” the document states.

In addition, China insisted that a shipment of weapon-sensitive sodium sulfide was bound for Armenia, despite open-source indications that the material was being delivered to Iran, the Times quoted an April 2008 cable as saying. The United States also urged China to look into a possible shipment to North Korea of material usable in chemical warfare matterials, according to another communication from that month (Bill Gertz, Washington Times, Feb. 2).

Meanwhile, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad lobbied the United States to press automobile producers to ensure their vehicles were not acquired by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard for use as missile carriers, theTelegraph reported.

Mossad broached the issue with the United States in October 2007, sharing photos of Iranian missile technology being fixed atop and pulled by a variety of vehicles manufactured by companies such as Honda, Toyota and Mercedes.

Israeli intelligence officials were also worried that French car companies could unknowingly assist Iran’s WMD production program.

“The Mossad representative noted that two large car manufacturers, Renault and Peugeot, are manufacturing cars in Iran. He urged that the U.S. make the case to them that their activities were contributing to Iran’s WMD program,” wrote then-U.S. political officer in Tel Aviv Marc Sievers. “He acknowledged that legally they are not doing anything wrong, but it might be worthwhile to show them how their business is helping proliferators” (Matthew Moore, London Telegraph II, Feb. 2).