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Iran seeks banned components for nuke, missile programs: U.S.

Iran seeks banned components for nuke, missile programs: U.S.

PanARMENIAN.Net - Iran has pursued a longstanding effort to buy banned components for its nuclear and missile programs in recent months, a U.S. official said, a period when it struck an interim deal with major powers to limit its disputed atomic activity, Reuters reported.

Vann Van Diepen, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for international security and non-proliferation, added that a Chinese businessman indicted in the United States in 2009 over sales of missile parts to Iran continued to supply such items despite U.S. pressure on China to tighten export controls.

Reuters says it was unable to reach the Chinese businessman, identified as Li Fangwei and also known as Karl Lee, for comment, as the mobile phone he previously used appeared to be out of service despite numerous calls made to it.

In February, Li said he continued to get commercial inquiries from Iran but only for legitimate merchandise. Li said his metals company, LIMMT, had stopped selling to Iran once the United States began sanctioning the firm several years ago.

In Beijing on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily news briefing that China was very clear in its stance on non-proliferation and seriously fulfilled its obligations to UN resolutions about export controls.

"As for individuals, we will investigate and deal with in accordance with the law those who break the law and rules," Hong added at briefing Monday, March 17, without elaborating.

Such trade would breach a 2006 UN embargo banning the provision by any nation to Iran of materials related to its nuclear and missile development work.

In November last year Iran and six world powers struck a breakthrough agreement providing for Tehran to curb its most sensitive atomic activity in exchange for some limited easing of sanctions damaging its economy.

The deal took effect on January 20 and UN nuclear inspectors have verified that Iran has suspended higher-grade uranium enrichment, with the powers reciprocating by relaxing some sanctions.

Asked if he had seen a change in Iranian procurement behavior in the past six to 12 months, a period that has seen a cautious thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations after decades of hostility, Van Diepen replied: "The short answer is no.

"They still continue very actively trying to procure items for their nuclear program and missile program and other programs," he said in an interview on Sunday. "We continue to see them very actively setting up and operating through front companies, falsifying documentation, engaging in multiple levels of trans-shipment ... to put more apparent distance between where the item originally came from and where it is ultimately going."

In 2009, the New York County District Attorney unsealed a fraud indictment against Li and LIMMT on suspicion they had used false names to process payments for sales to Iran through several U.S. banks. In February 2013, Washington imposed fresh sanctions on Li for further alleged supplies to Iran.

It is not clear what, if any, steps U.S. officials or their Chinese counterparts have taken to stop or detain Li based on those allegations. China has no extradition treaty with Washington, and so the allegations have never been tested in any subsequent court proceedings.

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