Following Iranian tests of a new air-launched anti-ship cruise missile acquired from China, the Senate, on June 18, approved a non-binding "sense-of-the-Senate" resolution offered by Senator Robert Bennett (RUT) urging the Clinton administration to enforce the Iran-Iraq Arms NonProliferation Act of 1992 and sanction China for selling the missiles to Iran.
Testifying in April, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Robert Einhorn said the law "does provide for a substantial list of actions" against anyone providing Iran or Iraq with destabilizing numbers or types of conventional weapons, or assisting them in the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. The administration has maintained since March 1996 that China's sale of the C802 Silkworm land and sea-launched anti-ship missile to Iran are not sufficiently destabilizing in numbers or type to trigger sanctions. That judgment, however, was called into question by the Senate after Defense Secretary William Cohen's June 17 announcement of Iran's successful tests of the C801 Sardine, a variant of the Silkworm.
According to a senior defense official, U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf now face "a 360degree threat which can . . . come up on you very, very quickly." Iran has deployed the C802 on its coast and on more than 20 patrol boats and frigates; the addition of the air-launched C801 variant provides Iran with an additional anti-ship capability that can be launched from any direction. The official pointed out, however, that the U.S. Navy "can certainly track and engage any cruise missile in the Gulf today."