China to Halt Missile Sales to Iran

Article excerpt

BEIJING - China promised yesterday to halt sales of anti-ship cruise missiles to Iran, weapons that threaten U.S. warships as well as ships transporting oil to Asia, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said.

The new assurances to end sales of C-802 and C-801 cruise missiles were provided by Gen. Chi Haotian, China's defense minister, during meetings with Mr. Cohen, who will meet this morning with Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

"I believe we have assurances, that I am satisfied that such sales will not continue in the future," Mr. Cohen said at a news conference today before meeting with Mr. Zemin. "I am satisfied that there will not be a contribution to the kind of conventional weaponry that would jeopardize American ships in the [Persian] Gulf."

Mr. Cohen did not elaborate but said the assurances were provided by Gen. Chi. A formal Chinese announcement on the issue was expected after Mr. Cohen's meeting with Mr. Jiang this morning.

Mr. Cohen said during a speech yesterday to military officers at the Academy of Military Sciences that among the key agreements reached by President Clinton and Mr. Jiang at the summit in October were promises by Beijing not to export cruise missiles and nuclear technology.

"And I must say I was very pleased to have those assurances reaffirmed today by General Chi," Mr. Cohen said.

But he also issued a blunt warning about the U.S. position in Asia. "We can work together toward our common interest, or we can work against each other," the secretary said. "The United States will succeed on either path."

Defense officials said before yesterday's meetings that Mr. Cohen would seek more concrete promises from China to end the transfer of C-802s, which were sold to Iran in 1996 as part of a deal for missile-equipped Chinese patrol boats.

Additional assurances were sought on the issue because no high-ranking military officers took part in the October summit in Washington.

Ending the cruise missile transfers to Iran has been one of the highest priorities on the U.S. agenda with China since late 1996.

Mr. Cohen said during his speech that disrupting the oil flow from the Persian Gulf "would clearly have a damaging effect on China's economy."

"And should that disruption occur through the use of weapons technology provided by China, it clearly would also have a damaging political effect on China's relations with many countries, including the United States," Mr. Cohen said.

Congress has been pressing the Clinton administration to take firmer action against China for its weapons proliferation activities.

China should "fully implement those assurances in order to ensure that stability in the Gulf and southwest Asia is not imperiled," Mr. Cohen said.

Mr. Cohen, who ends his three-day visit here today and heads to Japan, said the U.S. military is taking small steps in rebuilding ties with the Chinese military as part of what he called "strategic engagement."

Relations with the Chinese military virtually ended in 1989 after Communist leaders called in tanks and troops to suppress pro-democracy protesters camped out in Tiananmen Square, killing hundreds. Gen. Chi surprised many leaders in Washington during a visit in December 1996 when he told a gathering of military officers that no one died at Tiananmen. …