Both East and West deal in arms with Iran - openly or by proxy

Since the Iran-Iraq war began in 1980, Iran has managed to buy substantial amounts of weapons from West and East. Neither Washington's arms embargo nor Moscow's alliance with Iraq has deterred their allies from entering the lucrative arms trade with Iran. France, Britain, North Korea, and China are among countries selling weapons or military spare parts to Iran. Western diplomats in Brussels and Tehran say arms manufacturers and dealers have found loopholes in rules that prevent arms exports to Iran.

A relative shortage of sophisticated military hardware is a weak spot for Iran. It has therefore resorted to war strategies that do not require sophisticated weaponry but are based on the use of classic arms and nonmilitary hardware that are easily bought in world markets.

Though discreet about their methods of acquiring arms, Iranian officials say most of their military supplies come from private dealers operating in Western countries and from Western companies.

Britain has refused to impose any sort of arms embargo on the two Persian Gulf combatants. In 1985, the British Defense Ministry confirmed that Britain had sold spare parts for the Iranian Army's Chieftain tanks. It said the parts had been paid for before the 1979 revolution. Recent reports say Britain is negotiating the sale of 3,000 Land Rovers to Iran.

French firms have apparently sold Iran weapons for several years, despite repeated official denials. A few months ago, Western intelligence sources said Iran used French-made missiles to attack shipping in the Gulf. Says a NATO source: ``I can't believe such sophisticated weapons reached Iran without at least the tacit approval of the French government.''

Portugal and Austria have also reportedly sold arms to Iran. In 1985, a Pratt and Whitney subsidiary in Canada sold spare parts for helicopter engines to Iran. Western intelligence sources say they believe that many of the arms bought by Iran from European or US private dealers are actually Israeli-made and supplied.

These sources also say China is Iran's main arms suppliers and has sold Tehran ground-to-air missiles and combat aircraft. Both countries deny the deals. North Korea and Libya are the Soviet proxies most active in selling Iran arms. North Korea sells Iran Soviet- and Chinese-designed weapons. Libya provides Iran with ground-to-ground Soviet-made missiles. Western diplomats say Moscow hasn't objected to these deals.

Claude van England writes on Iran from his base in Brussels.

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