The State Department Monday defended the Indian government's record in combating weapons proliferation despite the imposition of U.S. sanctions last week against two Indian firms for dealings with Iran. The two companies were cited for violating a U.S. law aimed at curbing sales that could help Iran develop weapons of mass destruction.
Officials here stress that the U.S. penalties were levied against Indian private companies, not the government, and that the United States considers India a responsible actor in anti-proliferation efforts despite the sanctions.
The State Department announced Friday that two Indian chemical producers were among seven companies from four countries sanctioned for violating the Iran Nonproliferation Act, a U.S. law enacted six years ago aimed at curbing Iran's ability to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
U.S. officials say one of the Indian companies, Balaji Amines Limited, was cited for selling Iran precursor chemicals for rocket fuel; while the other, Prachi Poly Products Limited, is said to have sold Iran precursor chemicals that could be used for chemical weapons.
Critics of the Bush administration's controversial nuclear cooperation accord with India pounced on the sanctions announcement as evidence that India's non-proliferation record is less than ideal. However State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said sanctions against private firms operating in a given country do not necessarily reflect badly on a government's non-proliferation record, which he said in the case of India is good.
"Look at the announcement. As I understand it, there are 33 companies that are currently sanctioned under the Iran Nonproliferation Act," noted McCormack. "They're from a variety of different countries. But we believe the Indian government itself is a responsible actor, a very responsible actor, on the front of non-proliferation."
McCormack said he was unaware of anything to support a charge by House Democrat Edward Markey of Massachusetts that the administration deliberately held up the sanctions announcement until after a key congressional vote on the nuclear deal late last month.
The House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of the accord on July 26. A senior official who spoke to reporters here noted that a Senate vote and other congressional hurdles remain, and said the timing of Friday's sanctions move will prove over time to have been irrelevant.
Under the accord, India would become the first country that has not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to be given access to sensitive U.S. nuclear technology.
Opponents of the deal say it is hypocritical to create an exception for India at a time when the United States is trying to force Iran, an NPT signatory, to give up production of nuclear material.
The sanctions will bar the two Indian chemical companies from having any business dealings with the U.S. government or from buying certain U.S. high-tech products for two years.
One Cuban company and two each from North Korea and Russia also had U.S. penalties imposed against them Friday. Russia, in a statement, condemned the sanctions as an illegitimate attempt to make foreign companies work by American rules.