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U.S.-Iran Nuclear Crisis Linked to China
Gary Feuerberg, The Epoch Times
10/3/2006

China has been providing missiles and nuclear technology to Iran for years, experts told a U.S. security committee last week, adding that transactions have continued despite Chinese government promises to improve regulation and prevent nuclear proliferation.

"China has worked actively to dilute the effectiveness of any global response," said Ilan Berman from the American Foreign Policy Council. "Tehran's intransigence in this stand-off has been made possible in part by its strategic partnership with Beijing."

Berman testified before the U.S. China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) at its eighth meeting this year. The day-long session was held on September 14 in Washington D.C., with the morning devoted to China and Iran. Attending the meeting were experts from the Bush Administration, the private sector and the academia, responding to questions on China's role in nuclear proliferation to North Korea and Iran.

The recent interest in China-Iran relations arose after Hezbollah used Chinese-designed cruise missiles it had gotten from Iran to strike and disable an Israeli naval warship off the coast of Lebanon on July 15.

According to Berman, China has sold conventional arms to the Islamic Republic of Iran for the past 15 years. These have included anti-ship cruise missiles, surface-to-air missiles, combat aircraft, and fast-attack patrol vessels, which have greatly strengthened Iran's naval capability.

Despite China's commitment to opposing proliferation, Berman said that U.S. intelligence indicates that it continues to provide "substantial assistance" to Iran's ballistic missile program. This includes the centerpiece of Iran's arsenal, the 2,000-kilometer Shahab-3.

China has also assisted Iran in obtaining weapons of mass destruction (WMD), particularly nuclear technology, said Berman, referring to an official Department of Defense report. The report names China as a "principal supplier of nuclear technology to Iran."

"The most frustrating aspect of China's activities [in nuclear technology transfer] is that it insisted that reports of nuclear cooperation with Iran were 'groundless' and 'preposterous'," testified Dr. Ehsan M. Ahrari, CEO of Strategic Paradigms Consultancy.

The two countries signed nuclear accords in 1989 and 1991, but according to Ahrari, it was only in 1991 that Beijing admitted to its role in providing nuclear technology. Still, China maintained that the programs it was supporting were purely for the peaceful use of nuclear energy. In 1995, China conceded that it was selling uranium enrichment technology to Iran, said Ahrari.

To appease the United States, Beijing improved its non-proliferation posture by "promulgating export control laws and regulations, and strengthening its oversight mechanisms," said Peter Rodman, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.

In 2005, China also issued official white papers making its policies more transparent. In discussions with U.S. State Department officials, China reportedly asserts it is committed to enforcing its nonproliferation regulations. But State Department spokesperson Paula A. DeSutter said the proliferation has continued.

Chinese entities have "continued to transfer missile-related technology and material to missile programs of concern, primarily Iran and North Korea," said DeSutter. "Unfortunately...the record of the Chinese government's enforcement of its own laws and regulations to stem these transfers remains unsatisfactory."

Rodman gave four examples of Chinese violations of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), including supplying dual-use items to an Iranian missile production firm through late 2005 and 2006.

According to Rodman, this past summer, the United States government ran out of patience with the Chinese regime's empty pledges to curtail proliferation, not only in Iran but other countries "of concern" such as Sudan, Burma, Zimbabwe, Cuba, and Venezuela.

On June 13, 2006, the United States therefore imposed sanctions on four Chinese firms (including a U.S.-based representative of one of the companies) for providing support to Iran's ballistic missile program, both Rodman and DeSutter said.

According to DeSutter, some of the "serial proliferators" who perform much of the transfers are state-owned enterprises, which "suggests that the problem is greater than one of inadequate resources [for enforcement]."

Oil-for-Missile Program

The panelists agreed that China's main motive for befriending Iran is oil.

"It can be argued that China needs Iranian energy sources as direly as Iran needs China's military technology and know-how," said Dr. Ahrari. In 2005, China replaced Japan as second to the United States in its consumption of petroleum, he said.

Berman said that in 2004, the two countries signed accords worth about $100 billion over the next 25 years, granting Chinese firms extensive rights to develop Iranian oil and natural gas reserves. Since then, more deals have been signed that have boosted the energy relationship to $120 billion or more.

The experts said that the energy connection may explain why China is not cooperating with the United States to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions. Iran needs China's veto power in the United Nations Security Council "as a shield against the imposition of harsh economic and other sanctions, which the Bush administration seeks," said Ahrari.

Sanctions against Iran could threaten the steady supplies of oil that China needs to maintain its current economic momentum, especially because of the lead role that Iran plays in supplying petroleum to China, said Berman.

So, despite repeated U.S. entreaties, Berman said Chinese officials have "steadfastly [refused] to back sanctions against Iran on the grounds that they would be 'counterproductive'," which he calls a Chinese excuse for not doing anything.

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