Chinese firm tied to steel used in Iran nukes

January 26, 2011

By Bill Gertz-The Washington Times

The State Department in 2009 sought the Chinese government‘s help in blocking a sale to Iran of 25 tons of specialty steel for Tehran’s defense industry to be used in building nuclear-related centrifuges, according to a classified department cable.

“Post is instructed to inform appropriate-level Chinese officials of this transaction, and request that they investigate the entity and individuals involved,” according to the cable, which is labeled “secret.” It noted that the Chinese were to be told that the company faces sanctions for the proposed sale under U.S. law.

“Given the urgent nature of this nuclear-related transfer, we request that you investigate this transfer and take all necessary measures, consistent with your laws and authorities, to prevent it,” the cable said.

It is not known from the cable whether the shipment of maraging steel, a high-strength metal used in centrifuges and missile components, was transferred to Iran. However, the company involved was indicted in New York three months later, and court papers in that case indicate the steel and other banned goods were sold to Iran.

The cable provides new details on China‘s role as a supplier of materials for Iran‘s nuclear program. An earlier State Department cable revealed that China helped North Korea ship goods to Iran through Chinese airports.

“What this shows is that China has been a consistent problem in U.S. efforts to tighten the noose around Iran‘s nuclear program,” said Gary Milhollin, head of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. “Chinese companies have been a conduit for goods going to Iran.”

A CIA report to Congress last year said Chinese companies, both state-owned and private, continued in 2009 to sell weapons-of-mass-destruction goods to Iran.

China also covertly sold to Pakistan in 1996 specialty ring magnets that U.S. officials later determined were used in the core of that country’s nuclear weapons program, specifically its centrifuges that spin uranium gas into highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.

The Jan. 14, 2009, cable was partially censored by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, which released it Friday.

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