The United States has sanctioned 14 entities from seven different countries for allegedly providing Iran with exports that could be used to develop unconventional weapons and the means to deliver them. The move came amid ongoing worldwide uncertainty about Iran’s nuclear intentions and ballistic missile advances.
On Sept. 29, the Department of State announced penalties on seven Chinese companies; two individuals from India; and one company each from Belarus, North Korea, Russia, Spain, and Ukraine for running afoul of the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000. That law authorizes the president to penalize any foreign entity that transfers items to Iran that could aid its pursuit of dangerous weapons. A State Department official told Arms Control Today Oct. 12 that the offending transactions occurred more than a year ago.
However, the official said some of the entities, namely those sanctioned multiple times by Washington, might still have an ongoing relationship with Iran. The North Korean and Belarusian companies and four of the Chinese companies had already been hit with sanctions under the same law in April.
All the recently sanctioned entities will be barred from U.S. government contracts and aid, as well as all U.S. arms and dual-use exports, for two years.
Although U.S. proliferation sanctions are largely symbolic because the entities rarely do business with the U.S. government, Bush administration officials argue sanctions are valuable because they help stigmatize companies and individuals, applying indirect pressure to foreign governments to rein them in.
The Bush administration has leveled sanctions for proliferation transactions 98 times over four years, exceeding 70 imposed by the Clinton administration in its eight years. More than half of the sanctions imposed by the Bush administration explicity concerned transactions with Iran.
Nonetheless, foreign governments and companies continue to pursue ties, including in the nuclear sector, with Tehran, which also appears to be forging ahead with its ballistic missile program.
Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said Oct. 5 that Iran now had a missile capable of traveling 2,000 kilometers, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). U.S. intelligence previously estimated the range of Iran’s most advanced, flight-proven missile, the Shahab-3, at roughly 1,300 kilometers.
Rafsanjani’s claim, repeated by other Iranian officials, followed August and September missile tests, about which Tehran admits providing deliberately vague information, including whether the August test was on the ground or in flight. (See ACT, September 2004.) The only information available about the September test are Iranian media reports that quote Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani as saying the test involved a “strategic missile.” Iran announced Oct. 20 that it had conducted another Shahab-3 test.
Purported photos of the August test showed a missile shaped differently than that in previous pictures of Iran’s Shahab-3. Rather than having a conical tip, the missile’s re-entry vehicle was shaped more like a baby-bottle’s top. This new configuration has spurred speculation by Uzi Rubin, a former top Israeli missile defense official, that Iran has received foreign help, possibly from Russia, in upgrading the Shahab-3 to have greater range and accuracy.
U.S. officials refused to discuss Iran’s latest missile tests or apparent new re-entry vehicle design, except to reiterate Washington’s long-standing concerns about Iran’s missile programs.
During a two-day visit to Russia, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control Stephen Rademaker warned Oct. 6, “It is obvious to us that Iran’s intention is to deploy nuclear weapons on these missiles.” He added, “Fortunately for us, the United States is more than 2,000 kilometers from Iran, but obviously Iran intends to deploy longer-range missiles over time.”
Iranian officials, who assert Iran’s missiles are only for defensive purposes, have repeatedly denied working on a more powerful Shahab-4 ballistic missile. Instead, they claim Iran is pursuing space launch capabilities and in 2005 will attempt to lift a small satellite into space for the first time.