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Austria Weapons Deal with Iran Upsets US

An Austrian deal to supply high-calibre sniper rifles to the National Iranian Police to combat drug smuggling has raised concerns in the United States, worried that the weapons could be used by terrorists in Iraq.

The National Iranian Police Organization placed an initial order for 800 Steyr sniper guns last year, which it said was for use by its Anti-Drug Traffic Unit. A spokesman for the Austrian Interior Ministry, Rudolf Gollia, told VOA there was no reason to stop the deal. "The Iranian government supplied a certificate to say the weapons were to be used by the Iranian police to secure frontiers and to fight drug crimes," he said.

Mr. Gollia says he does not know if Steyr has already exported the weapons, but Austrian newspapers say part of the consignment is ready to be flown out by Iran Air from Vienna airport. A spokesman for Steyr said there were plans for even bigger orders with Iran this year. Bill Wanlund, press spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Vienna said the arms deal was of some concern. "The U.S. opposes all arms transfers to state sponsors of terrorism," said Bill Wanlund.

The United States is worried that the weapons could be used by terrorist insurgents in Iraq. Media reports say the weapons weigh about 12 kilograms and have a range of more than 1.5 kilometers.

The opposition Social Democratic Party wants the interior, defense, and foreign ministers to give a full explanation to parliament. The defense spokesman for the Social Democrats, Rudolf Parnigoni, says he wants to know if the deal violates Austrian law. "The point is whether this weapon has the strength to shoot through steel or whether it can put tanks out of action and so we have to look at the war materials law," he said.

Mr. Parnigoni says the other problem with Iran is that it is currently under review by the United Nations for developing a secret nuclear-weapons program, something Tehran denies.