Former nuclear inspector: China falling short on enforcing sanctions on Iran

A former UN nuclear inspector says China is too lax to adequately prevent Iranian buyers from acquiring materials and equipment for nuclear development.

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China is failing to enforce trade laws necessary for nuclear sanctions against Iran, weakening international efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear arsenal, according to a former nuclear inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Bloomberg reports that David Albright, a nuclear physicist who served as a UN nuclear inspector in Iran in the 1990s, warned Thursday that “China does not implement and enforce its trade controls or its sanctions laws adequately.”

While the U.S. and Europe have developed law enforcement and export control networks to detect Iranian front companies attempting to buy dual-use technology or materials, in China there’s "still a large amount" of equipment and materials that reaches Iranian buyers, Albright said.

"To a German supplier in China, it looks like a domestic sale where export controls don’t even come into play," Albright said. "It turns out that company is a front for an Iranian smuggling network."

Mr. Albright also said that “sanctions are working, but they can be improved," noting that Iran appears to be facing shortages of maraging steel, an alloy used to build centrifuges for enriching uranium. Bloomberg writes that the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment on Albright's remarks.

Albright's comments come ahead of Chinese President Hu Jintao's meeting next week with President Obama in Washington in which nuclear sanctions against Iran are likely to come up. The China Post, a pro-China Taiwanese newspaper, reports that on Thursday China rebuffed an offer from Tehran to tour Iranian nuclear facilities, "potentially smoothing a source of friction" between the US and China ahead of President Hu's visit.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that China's representative to the IAEA, one of those Iran invited to the tour, “is still in China right now, so it will be difficult for him to go to Iran.”

Russia, whose IAEA representative was also invited, offered a cool response to Iran this week as well, reports Radio Free Europe. While not rejecting Iran's invitation, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that "such visits cannot in any way be considered a substitute for IAEA inspections. And also, these visits and the group of countries participating in these visits must not be considered a substitute for the talks between Iran and the sextet," referring to the six nations involved in talks over Iran's nuclear program: the US, China, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany.

The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this month that Iran offered the tour of its nuclear facilities to China, Russia, and Hungary (which holds the EU presidency), among others, while leaving out the US, Britain, France, and Germany – all key critics of Iran's nuclear program, which they fear is being used to develop nuclear weapons.

But while Iran claimed to be making the offer to show “cooperation with the IAEA,” experts say it was merely an attempt to undermine the sanctions implemented by the five UN Security Council members and Germany.

“The Iranians are always trying to divide the coalition, and I think the point of the meetings [for the Iranians] is not to resolve the problem, but to deflect pressure for more sanctions, by demonstrating that Iran is not recalcitrant,” says Shahram Chubin, an Iran nuclear expert with the Carnegie Endowment based in Geneva.

“The Russians and the Chinese like to have any excuse not to go to the next step, or indeed to implement the current steps, and the Iranians play on that,” says Mr. Chubin, author of a 2006 book about Iran's nuclear efforts. Iran’s tactic is to “delay and prevaricate and divide, and it's always in response to pressure, despite what it says. Of course, that [pressure] is exactly the only way you can get the Iranians to focus.”

The Associated Press reports that the tour will still go on this weekend, according to Iranian diplomat Ali Asghar Soltanieh, but that its significance is diminished in the absence of the sextet and the EU, as well as key Iranian allies Turkey and Brazil.

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