A German industrialist says that Iran has dramatically stepped up efforts over the last six months to buy nuclear equipment using Chinese companies – a dangerous escalation that suggests the fundamentalist state is rushing to complete a weapon.
Ralf Wirtz, whose company, Oerlikon Leybold Vacuum, makes pumps that can be used in uranium enrichment centrifuges, told the Guardian of London that other networks around the world also are on the rise.
"In the last six months I have seen a considerable increase of procurement attempts which - as we are told by government authorities - are for a nuclear program," Wirtz told the world's leading nuclear experts gathered yesterday at a Washington conference organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Iran is using very sophisticated methods to dodge UN sanctions, Wirtz told the group, the Guardian reported. It has recently placed orders for sensitive equipment through engineering companies that have legitimate uses for it. He gave the example of a recent attempt to buy his company's pumps through a Chinese engineering firm.
"European government authorities were notified, one of which learned from the Chinese government that the pumps did indeed go to Iran," Wirtz said, according to the Guardian. "Although they did not learn the exact end user, they believed Iran's centrifuge program was the likely customer."
The relationship, which signals a dangerous alliance between Tehran and Beijing, may not always be known to the actual Chinese company. Though companies producing such sensitive equipment are closely monitored by the government, they are nominally private enterprises.
Wirtz added that the firm in this case was probably not aware it was being used to further Iran's nuclear program. However, another Chinese company was charged in a New York court yesterday with knowingly selling missile and nuclear technology to Iran.
Li Feng Wei and his company were indicted on 118 counts of fraud and conspiracy to supply Iran with equipment banned under a UN embargo.
David Albright, the head of the Institute for Science and International Security, said: "China is a huge hole in the system. It needs help to implement its own controls."
Wirtz likened the nuclear smuggling network to a chain store. "If you close a few stores, if you shut down some affiliates, the remaining ones continue to operate. Even if you close the corporate headquarters, the shops may be able to survive."
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