The United States is imposing sanctions against companies in China, Armenia and Moldova for selling equipment and technology to Iran that could be used in efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. It is the third time in less than a year that Chinese entities have been cited as violators of U.S. non-proliferation law.
In a move that underscores U.S. concern about Iranian weapons efforts, the administration is imposing sanctions on an unspecified number of companies in China, Armenia and Moldova for violating a two-year-old U.S. anti-proliferation law aimed at Iran.
The sanctions are to be in place for two years and will forbid the cited companies from doing business with the U.S. government or taking part in any U.S. aid program. The firms are also banned from buying arms or weapons-related goods from American companies in transactions that would require U.S. export licenses.
Confirmation of the move came from State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, who said the penalties are directed against the companies and not the countries in which they are based. "The penalties are being imposed on entities as provided in the Iran Non-Proliferation Act for the transfer to Iran of equipment and technology listed on multi-lateral export control lists," he said. "Penalties are specific to the named entities and do not extend to the Armenian, Chinese or Moldovan governments. Indeed we appreciate the efforts that Moldova and Armenia in particular have made in non-proliferation."
U.S. officials have faulted China's record on non-proliferation and the issue has been a chronic problem area in bilateral relations.
In January, three Chinese entities, two companies and an individual export broker, were also penalized for their dealings with Iran, and in September of last year sanctions were imposed on a Chinese metallurgical concern in connection with missile-related sales to Pakistan.
Under questioning here, spokesman Boucher said it is unclear what practical effect the latest sanctions would have on the Chinese, Moldovan and Armenian companies, since that depended on what dealings, if, any they had with the United States.
He said the Bush administration had filed a report on the violations with Congress and that the affected companies would be identified later, when the finding is published in the U.S. government's official journal, The Federal Register.
A public report by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency last year said Iran was one of the most active countries seeking to acquire nuclear, chemical and biological weapons systems and ballistic missiles.
President Bush cited what he said was Iran's aggressive pursuit of such weapons in his State of the Union address in January when he listed Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, in what he termed an "axis of evil."