The United States said Wednesday it has imposed sanctions against four Chinese business entities and a North Korean state company for selling missiles or weapons of mass destruction technology to Iran. The proliferation issue also figured in State Department talks Wednesday between senior U.S. and Chinese diplomats.
The State Department decision, published in the U.S. government's official journal, the Federal Register, cites the Chinese and North Korean entities for violations of the Iran Non-Proliferation Act approved by the U.S. Congress in 2000.
The announcement provides no details of the five companies' activities.
But the U.S. law provides for sanctions against firms that transfer ballistic or cruise missiles to Iran, or technology and equipment that can make a material contribution to Iranian missile or weapons of mass destruction programs.
Two of the four Chinese concerns cited Wednesday had been the target of previous U.S. sanction actions, as had the North Korean company, the Changgwang Sinyong Corporation, which is the external marketing arm of the North Korean military.
The sanctions being imposed, among other things, terminate any contracts the companies may have with the U.S. Defense Department, bar other U.S. government agencies from dealing with them, and forbid commercial sales to them of U.S. high technology items.
The penalties will be in effect for two years, or extended for two years in the case of those firms already under sanction.
The companies named Wednesday have no known U.S. business connections so the sanctions will have little practical effect.
But at a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the action reflects the high priority the Bush administration places on stopping weapons proliferation, especially to Iran, which the United States accuses of having a secret nuclear weapons program.
"It's an uphill battle," he said. "But I think the administration has rightfully pointed to proliferation as a major concern, has taken a number of important initiatives, particularly the Proliferation Security Initiative. But let's be clear-eyed about this: there are unrepentant proliferators out there, and it's going to require a concerted sustained effort to fight them."
Spokesman Ereli said sanction laws are not the whole story and that the United States has had a sustained and high-level engagement with China on developing effective Chinese export control laws.
Mr. Ereli admitted that the U.S. diplomatic effort with China is what he termed a work in progress and that there is a definitely a way to go to get Beijing to impose a robust control regime.
The comments came as Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage held talks here Wednesday with Dai Bingguo, China's Executive Vice Foreign Minister.
A U.S. official said China's dealings with Iran came up in the course of a wide-ranging discussion that also covered counter-terrorism and Chinese-sponsored six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program.
The official described the talks as a continuation of the dialogue between President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao at the APEC Pacific regional summit last month in Santiago, Chile.