State Dept. Revises Report on China's Arms Sales to Iran

Article excerpt

The State Department changed written testimony submitted to a Senate panel last week in what critics say was an effort to downplay China's shipping of chemical weapons components to Iran.

The critics charge the Clinton administration is minimizing potential law violations in the China-Iran arms arrangement so it won't have to impose severe economic sanctions against Beijing.

Such action would risk ruining President Clinton's policy of engagement with the communist regime on the important issues of security in the Pacific and bilateral trade.

The testimony in question was given by Robert J. Einhorn, deputy assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation, to the Senate Government Affairs subcommittee on international security, proliferation and federal services.

Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican and subcommittee chairman, called the hearing to get the administration's explanation for why sanctions have not been imposed. Mr. Cochran cited reports that China has sold nuclear-capable M-11 missiles to Pakistan, and chemical weapons components and cruise missiles to Iran, a designated terrorist state.

The State Department sent Mr. Einhorn's nine-page "for the record" statement a day before the hearing.

Regarding China's chemical sales, the statement said, "These dual-use chemical-related transfers to Iran's CW [chemical weapons] program indicate that, at a minimum, China's chemical export controls are not operating effectively enough to ensure compliance with China's prospective [Chemical Weapons Convention] obligation not to assist anyone in any way to acquire chemical weapons."

But a day later, the department asked to recall the testimony.

A second "official" statement deleted the phrase that said China is selling chemical components directly to Iran's weapons industry. Instead, it said, "These dual-use chemical-related transfers to Iran . . . "

The change was important, according to Senate staffers and nonproliferation experts.

"If they had stuck with the original testimony, there would have been practically no wiggle room on allowing China to avoid sanctions," said Gary Milhollin, director of the Washington-based Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. …