US slaps sanctions on Chinese, Iranian firms

The United States has imposed sanctions on two major arms companies from China and Iran, accusing them of cooperating to expand the Islamic republic’s missile arsenal.

    Iran tests a Chinese-made
    missile in February

    The order will ban North China Industries, or Norinco, from exporting goods to the United States that are worth of some $100 million annually, according to US documents and officials.

     

    The sanctions took effect on May 9 but were only announced by the US State Department on Thursday. They call for ending all existing contracts between the US government and the two companies, including the Iranian Shahid Hemmat industrial group.

     

    Norinco officials refused to comment on the ban. “We have no comment,” a spokesman at the Norinco president’s office said by telephone.

     

    Asked whether the company had sent ballistic missile products to Iran, he said: “Please don’t ask further. My brain is blank.”

     

    The spokesman said that his company would issue a statement in a few days.

     

    The Chinese foreign ministry has not commented on the ban yet, which came days ahead of a meeting between Chinese President Hu Jintao and US President George W. Bush.

     

    Toughest

     

    The sanctions were believed to be the toughest punishment imposed by the United States against a Chinese body, a US official said Thursday. “This one is big,” he said about the US decision that will expire after two years.

     

    The official said the Chinese company made a specific material contribution to the Iranian ballistic missile programme. He gave no further details.

     

    The transfer took place after China put into effect new laws in August 2002 to control arms export. The move came after years of advocacy by the United States to restrict the flow of technology used in weapons of mass destruction.

     

    The sanctions decision came despite improvement of relations between the US and China in other areas, such as their cooperation in the “war on terror” declared by the US following the 11 September attacks.

     

    Another area that saw progress in cooperation between the two countries is the issue of North Korea and its nuclear programme.

     

    “What we’re trying to do is to suggest to China that they need to crack down on their companies more”, the official said.

     

    The sanctions comes at a time the US is stepping up its efforts to garner international support against Iran on alleged development of weapons of mass destruction.

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