Iran II

See also Iran I.

[Continued from Iran I. The capacity this blog will hold forced me to paste the second-half here.]

The same challenge still applies, however. You take a look at the material I’ve archived in these two blogs. Then, you tell me. What percentage of the Washington regime’s relations to the world beyond its borders do you think is determined by the threat or use of violence, and the capacity to deliver pain—or to withdraw it, whatever the case happens to be?

Ottawa Citizen
February 22, 2005 Tuesday

Final Edition
HEADLINE: U.S. ‘hypes, distorts, twists’ evidence to drum up support for missile shield: expert: Bush used same pattern to justify search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he says
BYLINE: David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen

The Bush administration is exaggerating the ballistic missile threat facing North America in order to promote its missile shield, says a retired top U.S. intelligence officer.

Former career diplomat Greg Thielmann, in Ottawa to meet with parliamentarians and non-governmental agencies on disarmament issues today, said Canada is smart to be wary of the missile shield since the arguments put forth to support it are dubious.

He noted that in 1999, Donald Rumsfeld, now the U.S. defence secretary, produced a report suggesting the United States was in imminent danger of attack by rogue nations who were building long-range missiles. That report was used by the Bush administration to justify withdrawing from an arms control treaty to begin serious work on the missile shield, in the process scuttling another arms control treaty with the Russians, said Mr. Thielmann, former director for analysis of strategic proliferation in the State Department’s bureau of intelligence and research.

Five years later, none of the rogue nations Mr. Rumsfeld warned about has a missile capable of hitting the United States, he added. “If this sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because it’s the exact same pattern that the Bush administration used in the case of Iraq,” said Mr. Thielmann. “You hype up, exaggerate a threat, distorting, twisting and torturing the evidence of the professional analysts to come up with a public product which basically mis-educates the public and, in our case, the Congress.”

Mr. Thielmann’s office was responsible for analysing the threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as well as from ballistic missiles. He retired from government several years ago.

The missile shield is a top military priority for President George W. Bush, who says it is essential to protect the United States from attacks by nations such as Iran and North Korea. The shield uses a ground-based interceptor to shoot down incoming warheads.

Canada has yet to decide on whether to join the shield and Prime Minister Paul Martin is facing opposition to the system from within his own party. However, there are also some strong supporters of the system in cabinet, such as Defence Minister Bill Graham.

North Korea’s recent announcement that it had built nuclear weapons has also heightened concerns in the United States. Last week, CIA chief Porter Goss told Congress that North Korea could start testing a missile with the capability of striking the U.S. with a nuclear weapon. But South Korean intelligence officials disagree, noting that its northern rival lacks the technology to deliver the bomb by missile, although it could use a plane to carry the device.

The Irish Times
February 23, 2005
SECTION: World; Pg. 11
HEADLINE: Bush: no plan for military action on Iran
BYLINE: By Denis Staunton in Brussels

BRUSSELS: President George Bush has dismissed as “ridiculous” the suggestion that Washington is preparing to take military action against Iran, although he declined to rule out any option to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.

Speaking in Brussels on the second day of a fence-mending tour of Europe, Mr Bush said he was getting “good advice” from EU leaders on how to deal with Iran.

“This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. Having said that, all options are on the table,” he said.

During separate meetings at NATO and EU headquarters, Mr Bush and the European leaders discussed issues including Iran, Iraq, the Middle East peace process, Russia, Ukraine and climate change.

The Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, described the meeting with EU leaders as “enormously friendly”, in sharp contrast to a disastrous EU-US summit in the Swedish city of Gothenburg four years ago. “That was a fairly terrible meeting in every way . . . It was bad on the streets, it was bad everywhere, it was a bad meeting. Today was the opposite end of the world. It was enormously friendly,” he said.

Belgian police fired tear gas at hundreds of protesters near the EU headquarters after petrol bombs were thrown at them during an otherwise peaceful demonstration.

Despite the meeting’s cordial atmosphere, Mr Bush and EU leaders were unable to conceal their differences over Iran and the EU’s plan to lift its arms embargo on China.

Germany’s Chancellor, Mr Gerhard Schroder, told Mr Bush that the EU should offer to sell Tehran an Airbus aircraft as an incentive to engage in talks on its nuclear programme.

The French President, Mr Jacques Chirac, urged Mr Bush to back Europe’s diplomatic engagement with Iran and defended the use of economic incentives.

“It seems to me legitimate to make a gesture in the area of Iran’s bid for WTO membership and wish to buy civil aircraft engines. I don’t see why that shouldn’t be done and I said so to the President of the United States,” he said.

Mr Bush said he would consider an EU proposal to tighten up its code of conduct on arms sales to ensure that lifting the arms embargo on China would not threaten US security interests in the region.

“There is deep concern in our country that the transfer of weapons would be a transfer of technology to China, which would change the balance of relations between China and Taiwan,” he said

But he added later: “I am told that they’ve heard the concerns of the United States, they’re listening to the concerns of the administration.”

Luxembourg’s Prime Minister, Mr Jean-Claude Juncker, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said that the EU and the US had offered to host a joint conference to organise international help for reconstruction in Iraq.

“The United States and Europe stand together in support of the Iraqi people. Should the Iraqi government invite us, the European Union and the United States are prepared to co-host an international conference . . . to coordinate international support for Iraq,” he said.

Mr Ahern said he believed Mr Bush and his administration had calculated that a more accommodating approach towards European concerns was in the US interest.

“I think the Americans have decided that it’s far better on these international issues that the European Union can be a good friend and ally if they work with them,” he said.

Today Mr Bush travels to Germany where he will meet Mr Schroder and visit US forces in Wiesbaden. He will leave for Slovakia later today.

The New York Times
February 24, 2005 Thursday
Late Edition – Final
SECTION: Section A; Column 6; Foreign Desk; BUSH IN EUROPE: MEETING IN GERMANY; Pg. 1

President Bush said Wednesday that he and German, British and French leaders had discussed negotiating tactics to try to get Iran to give up its suspected nuclear weapons program, and his national security adviser later left open the possibility that Mr. Bush would consider offering incentives to dissuade Iran from its nuclear ambitions.

The tactic of incentives, favored by the Europeans, had been roundly rejected by the Bush administration as recently as two weeks ago.

Despite the glimmer of what the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, described as a ”convergence” of the Americans and Europeans on the tactics to be used in negotiations with Iran, the president gave no indication that the United States would directly join in the talks, as the Europeans want.

Mr. Bush made his remarks in the Rhine city of Mainz at a joint news conference with Chancellor Gerhard Schroder of Germany in the Electoral Palace, a reconstructed German Renaissance building that was once the home of the archbishop of Mainz. The president was on the third day of a four-day trip to Europe to repair relationships ruptured after the war with Iraq, and he and Mr. Schroder had talks that focused on Iran, touched on their disagreement over the Kyoto Treaty on global warming and generally helped publicly smooth over the rift between the nations.

Mr. Bush also sought to soothe growing fears in Europe that Iran would become the next battleground for the United States.

”You know, yesterday I was asked about the U.S. position, and I said all options are on the table,” he said, referring to comments he made at the European Union headquarters in Brussels. ”That’s part of our position. But I also reminded people that diplomacy is just beginning. Iran is not Iraq.”

On Tuesday at a news conference at the European Union, Mr. Bush said bluntly, ”This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous.” But then he immediately added, to some laughter, ”And having said that, all options are on the table.”

The president also emphatically declared that blame for any lack of progress in the talks should be placed on Iran, not on the White House or Europe.

”The reason we’re having these discussions is because they were caught enriching uranium after they had signed a treaty saying they wouldn’t enrich uranium,” Mr. Bush said of the Iranians. ”They’re the party that needs to be held into account, not any of us.”

In his public comments about Iran’s uranium enrichment, Mr. Bush appeared to have misspoken, because the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty permits uranium enrichment for commercial purposes as long as a country declares the activity and allows inspections.

In Iran’s case, it hid enrichment facilities from the International Atomic Energy Agency for a number of years, but when caught, said all of its nuclear activities are solely for commercial purposes. The United States has charged that Iran is secretly pursuing weapons development, but the agency says that it has found no concrete evidence of such a weapons program.

Mr. Bush’s discussions with Mr. Schroder on Iran come at a crucial time. Although Mr. Hadley denied any sense of urgency about the issue, European officials say the negotiations at the I.A.E.A. in Vienna are at an impasse, and they have become increasingly vocal in saying the talks will fail without the Americans at the table.

The president has repeatedly said that he is ”consulting” with the Europeans on the talks, but has never said why the Americans are not directly involved in the negotiations. The Europeans say one reason is Mr. Bush’s staunch opposition to rewarding what he considers bad behavior by having the world’s superpower at the same negotiating table with a nation he sees as a rogue.

Mr. Bush, when asked at the news conference if he thought incentives for Iran would work, sidestepped the question. But he did warmly praise the Europeans for their efforts in the talks.

”I want to thank Gerhard for taking the lead, along with Britain and France, on this important issue,” he said. ”It’s vital that the Iranians hear the world speak with one voice that they shouldn’t have a nuclear weapon.”

A senior Bush administration official later said that Mr. Bush’s praise represented a shift in the American attitude toward the talks. ”Last fall we were yelling at each other,” the official said.

In a briefing for reporters, Mr. Hadley said there had been discussions between Mr. Bush and Mr. Schroder about ”should there be a mix of carrots and sticks, and who should the carrots come from and what should they be.” He said the president ”did a lot of listening” and now ”has really got to go back and think about it, quite frankly.”

Until now, the Europeans have in effect been offering Iran all the carrots in the talks, economic and political incentives if Iran disarms. In contrast, the United States has been offering sticks focused on the demand that the matter be referred to the United Nations Security Council, where political and economic sanctions would be considered.

A growing body of international academics and former government officials say the only way to approach Iran is for there to be a ”convergence,” the same phrase used by Mr. Hadley, and have both the United States and Europe join in presenting both incentives and threats.

Mr. Bush spent a total of nine hours in Germany on Wednesday, his first trip to the country since the invasion of Iraq, and his first extended meeting with Mr. Schroder since the chancellor had lunch at the White House in February 2004. The two have had a tense relationship since Mr. Schroder campaigned for re-election in 2002 on what many in the White House considered an anti-Bush, anti-American platform.

People close to Mr. Bush said he had felt personally betrayed. Although the two leaders now seem to have reached a civil working relationship, the body language on Wednesday was anything but warm. Mr. Schroder looked stern and businesslike in his public appearances with Mr. Bush, who smiled as ”The Star Spangled Banner” was played in a military welcoming ceremony under intermittent snow flurries.

But the two men did what they came together to do, which was to publicly play down their differences and present a united front on Iran.

”We absolutely agree that Iran must say no to any kind of nuclear weapon, full stop,” Mr. Schroder said at the news conference.

Mr. Schroder said he and Mr. Bush had discussed other issues on which they disagree, most notably the Kyoto Treaty on global warming, which Europeans support and the Bush administration opposes.

”The Kyoto Protocol was not appreciated by everybody, and that is something that has continued to exist,” Mr. Schroder said. ”But I would like to emphasize that despite that, we would like to see practical cooperation with the reduction of problems in this area.”

Mr. Bush said that ”I assured the chancellor that the United States cares about the quality of our air, obviously,” and that the two countries should share research and technology that would improve the environment. Neither leader went much beyond those generalities.

Later in the day, Mr. Bush spoke to American troops at the nearby Wiesbaden Army Airfield, where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was traveling with the president, served as a warm-up speaker. Ms. Rice was raucously greeted with shouts of ”We love you!”

In a pep talk delivered without notes, Ms. Rice asked the crowd of 3,000: ”Do you know why America has the greatest military in the history of the world? Because it has the greatest soldiers, airmen and seamen in the history of the world.”

Mr. Bush then left for Bratislava, Slovakia, for meetings with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Thursday.

The Irish Times
February 25, 2005
SECTION: World; Pg. 12
HEADLINE: Putin tells Bush that Russia will not alter its system
BYLINE: By Daniel McLaughlin in Bratislava

BUSH VISIT: President Vladimir Putin launched a robust defence of Russian democracy yesterday after President Bush questioned his attitude to the rule of law, independent media and political opposition at their summit meeting in the Slovak capital.

In their first major talks since Mr Bush’s re-election and a clash over Viktor Yushchenko’s victory in Ukraine’s presidential poll, the two leaders pledged to work together to fight terror, prevent Iran and North Korea acquiring nuclear weapons, bring peace to the Middle East and boost energy co-operation.

But after Mr Bush peppered his European tour with unusually blunt queries over the state of Russian democracy, the focus was on how Mr Putin would answer the charge that he is reversing liberal reforms begun by Presidents Gorbachev and Yeltsin.

“A strong country is built by developing a strong democracy,” Mr Bush told reporters after meeting his Russian counterpart in the imposing castle that overlooks Bratislava.

“The rule of law, protection of minorities, freedom of the press and a viable political opposition,” Mr Bush said, were “universal principles” of a democracy that could not be sacrificed. “Democracy and freedom bring prosperity to every land.” But Mr Putin, who has overseen the emasculation of independent television and crushed his liberal opponents since taking power in 2000, was in no mood to give way.

“Russia chose democracy 14 years ago, independent of outside pressure. It made that decision in its own interests. . . it was a final choice and there is no way back,” he said. “Any return to totalitarianism is impossible today because of the state of Russian society.”

Pressed over what specific problems he raised with his Russian counterpart, Mr Bush repeatedly chose to praise the former KGB spy as a trustworthy straight talker.

“We have a frank and candid relationship,” Mr Bush said with a broad smile. “This is the kind of fella that when he says ‘yes’ he means ‘yes’.”

In his most expansive moment, Mr Bush declared: “Mr President – it’s great to see you again!” But, standing next to him on the podium, Mr Putin for the most part remained stony-faced.

“We can see no alternative to the consistent strengthening of the US-Russia relationship,” he conceded, before adding: “I respect Mr Bush a lot and think some of his ideas could be taken on board. But some other ideas I will not comment upon.”

Assailed by the US and European Union for allowing the Yukos oil firm to be broken up and its founder – the rich and powerful Mr Mikhail Khodorkovsky – to be thrown into jail, Mr Putin insisted that the state must place some limits on democracy and economic freedom.

In a clear reference to the corrupt, cut-price privatisations of the Yeltsin era that gave birth to a few billionaire “oligarchs” like Mr Khodorkovsky, Mr Putin declared: “Democracy. . . should not be accompanied by the collapse of the state and the impoverishment of the people. Democracy is not anarchy, it is not an opportunity to do what you want and rob your own people.

“We are not going to invent a special Russian democracy. We are committed to the fundamental principles of democracy,” Mr Putin continued.

“But all the institutions of democracy must be compatible with the condition of Russia and its history.”

After recent rows over the contentious elections in Ukraine – where Mr Putin openly backed the pro-Moscow candidate, Mr Viktor Yanukovich, and congratulated him on a “victory” that was later annulled for fraud – and the Kremlin’s opposition to the war in Iraq, the two leaders were keen however, to underline their essential partnership.

“It is obvious that Russia and the US share long-term strategic goals,” Mr Putin insisted, with reference to growing US links with the Russian oil industry and pledges to co-operate in science, high-technology and space projects.

Mr Bush called Russia a “strong and viable partner for the US” and promised full support for Moscow’s long-standing effort to join the World Trade Organisation.

But he will have raised hackles in Moscow earlier in the day by calling for the strengthening of democracy across the former Soviet Union – talk that Russian officials associate with what they see as recent US-backed revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, which brought to power leaders who want to reduce the Kremlin’s traditional influence on their nations.

“It took almost a decade after the velvet revolution for democracy to fully take root in this country,” Mr Bush told a cheering crowd in central Bratislava. “And the democratic revolutions that swept this region over 15 years ago are now reaching Georgia and Ukraine.

“In 10 days Moldova has the opportunity to place its democratic credentials beyond doubt as its people head to the polls,” he added, referring to elections in the former Soviet republic a week on Sunday.

“Inevitably, the people of Belarus will some day proudly belong to the country of democracies,” he added, referring to Ukraine’s neighbour, an isolated state run by the authoritarian Mr Alexander Lukashenko, whom US officials once called “Europe’s last dictator”.

The New York Times
February 25, 2005 Friday
Late Edition – Final
SECTION: Section A; Column 6; Foreign Desk; BUSH IN EUROPE: MEETING WITH PUTIN; Pg. 1
BYLINE: By ELISABETH BUMILLER and DAVID E. SANGER; Elisabeth Bumiller reported from Bratislava, Slovakia, for this article, and David E. Sanger from Washington.

President Bush expressed concern on Thursday night about Russia’s commitment to democracy in a sometimes tense and awkward encounter with President Vladimir V. Putin. Mr. Putin, at times visibly uncomfortable, refused to yield.

”Democracies have certain things in common — a rule of law and protection of minorities and a free press and a viable political opposition,” Mr. Bush said after a private meeting that lasted more than an hour, chiding Mr. Putin gently though more directly than ever before. ”I was able to share my concerns about Russia’s commitment in fulfilling these universal principles.”

Mr. Putin tartly responded that he would listen to some of Mr. Bush’s ideas but not comment on others and said that debating ”whether we have more or less democracy is not the right thing to do.”

The Russian president also said that the American Electoral College was in essence a ”secret ballot” and pointedly noted, ”It is not considered undemocratic, is it?”

The joint news conference after their summit meeting at the medieval Bratislava Castle overlooking the Danube was designed to portray unity on a day when the two sides announced an agreement that could reduce the potential threat of nuclear terrorism by speeding up the much-delayed securing and dismantling of some of Russia’s nuclear materials.

But it also offered unusual moments of heat as Mr. Bush continued to press a campaign for democracy and liberty that has received mixed reviews during his four-day European tour. It appeared to have struck one of its more discordant notes with Mr. Putin. The exchanges stood in contrast to the reception for Mr. Bush earlier during his speech to thousands of enthusiastic Slovaks in Bratislava’s main Hviezdoslavovo Square, where Mr. Bush appeared to caution Mr. Putin not to meddle, as he did recently in Ukraine, with the democratic advances in a region that Russia considers its sphere of influence.

Beyond the nuclear agreement, the day produced no breakthroughs. Mr. Bush said he and Mr. Putin agreed that Iran and North Korea should not have nuclear weapons. But the two sides remained divided over Iran and Syria. A senior administration official said that Russian plans to sell Syria missiles were ”destabilizing” at this point. ”We made that point clear,” he said.

On Russia’s continued sale of equipment to Iran for its nuclear program, there also appeared to be little progress, though a senior administration official said the president was ”satisfied” that Mr. Putin had reiterated his pledge not to sell nuclear fuel to Iran without an agreement that the spent fuel would be returned to Russia.

That has been important to the United States because spent fuel can be converted to weapons-grade plutonium. This month, Mr. Putin talked with Iran about expanding their nuclear relationship, a subject the official said did not come up in Thursday’s conversation.

Apparently in an effort to display fuller progress, the United States and Russia jointly announced a handful of modest agreements, including an effort to limit the spread of shoulder-fired missiles and some other deals already committed to on trade and energy.

A senior administration official who took part in the nuclear talks said that the goal of the accord was to ”accelerate the process” of securing Russian stockpiles. Under the agreement, the official said, most of the excess weapons fuel in Russia would be secured or converted to commercial fuel by about 2008, four years earlier than expected at the current pace of work under a plan that has been in place since after the cold war.

The slowness of the multibillion-dollar program became a heated topic in the presidential campaign, when Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, accused Mr. Bush of moving far too slowly in addressing what may be the biggest single proliferation risk in the world. Administration officials rushed to reach an agreement that would jump-start the efforts, and to show that Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin could cooperate, even as they disagreed on democratization issues.

”It was an important statement,” said Matthew Bunn, a Harvard nuclear specialist who worked with Mr. Kerry’s campaign last year, ”because they put both presidents’ names on a document that said this has to be taken seriously. And that is important because Russian security officials have been acting as if protecting a few more secrets from the U.S. is more important than protecting nuclear materials from falling into the hands of Osama bin Laden.”

The two also agreed to form new emergency-response procedures if nuclear material was missing or a ”dirty bomb” or a nuclear weapon fell into the wrong hands. But they failed to agree on who would be liable for accidents that might occur in the dangerous process of removing, converting and transporting weapons fuel and might not agree on that area until the two men meet in Moscow in May, officials said.

Mr. Bush said that he and Mr. Putin had had a ”frank” exchange in their one-on-one meeting, with interpreters the only other people in the room.

He did not say what he meant by ”frank,” but a senior administration official who briefed reporters on Mr. Bush’s meeting with President Jacques Chirac of France earlier in the week said he did not want to describe that session as ”frank” because ”it usually means a euphemism for bad.”

The news conference had been built up during the president’s four-day trip across Europe as a face-off between Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin over the course of democracy in Russia, where in recent months Mr. Putin has taken steps to tighten state control over the economy and stifle dissent.

Mr. Putin declared that Russia was committed to ”the fundamental principles of democracy.” But he archly said that democracy ”should not be accompanied by the collapse of the state and the impoverishment of the people.”

Mr. Bush said that Russia had undergone an ”amazing transformation” in the last 15 years. But he said he had expressed his concerns to Mr. Putin about Russia’s democratic health ”in a constructive and friendly way.”

Some moments later, Mr. Putin responded to Mr. Bush: ”I believe that some of his ideas could be taken into account in my work, and I will pay due attention to them, that’s for sure. Some other ideas, I will not comment on.”

In one of the few moments of humor in the news conference, Mr. Bush started to chuckle, and Mr. Putin winked back.

At moments, Mr. Bush displayed the characteristic jolliness he uses when he is trying to win someone over, and Mr. Putin just as characteristically stood ramrod straight with a grim expression.

The two became the most animated when a Russian journalist asked Mr. Bush why he did not talk about restrictions to press freedom in his own country and ”about the fact that some journalists have been fired?”

Mr. Bush responded that ”I don’t know what journalists you’re referring to,” and then turned to the White House press corps and said, ”Any of you all still have your jobs?”

Mr. Putin, jumping to answer the question, said, ”I’m not the minister of propaganda.”

Both men also shot back at another Russian reporter who said in his question that ”the regimes” in place in Russia and the United States could not be considered fully democratic, especially when compared with the Netherlands.

Mr. Putin responded that ”you have cited a curious example — the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a monarchy, after all.”

Mr. Bush responded that ”I live in a transparent country” where ”decisions made by government are wide open, and people are able to call people — me — to account, which many here do on a regular basis.”

In one of the easier areas of common interest, the two sides agreed to a deal to limit the spread of the shoulder-fired missiles called Man-Portable Air Defense Systems, or Manpads. Such missiles can be fired by one person, are favored by terrorists and pose a threat to military and commercial aircraft.

The State Department estimates that one million have been produced worldwide, but that a much smaller number, somewhere in the thousands, are in the hands of what the State Department calls ”non-state actors.”

In his speech to Slovaks, Mr. Bush compared events in Iraq to the overthrow of Communism in the Velvet Revolution in 1989 in Czechoslovakia, which Slovakia broke from in 1993. ”And as you watched jubilant Iraqis dancing in the streets last month, holding up ink-stained fingers, you remembered Velvet Days,” Mr. Bush said. ”For the Iraqi people, this is their 1989, and they will always remember who stood with them in their quest for freedom.” Mr. Bush also recalled the 2003 bloodless revolution in Georgia in which the rose was the symbol, and the recent democratic upheaval in Ukraine, where orange was the color of Viktor A. Yushchenko, the opposition leader who was inaugurated president in January.

He then added a colored revolution of his own, referring to the purple ink-stained fingers that Iraqis held up to show they had voted in the Jan. 30 elections. ”In recent times, we have witnessed landmark events in the history of liberty, a Rose Revolution in Georgia, an Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and now, a Purple Revolution in Iraq,” Mr. Bush said.

His seeming warning to Mr. Putin came with a statement that this democratic progress was not complete, but inevitable, even in those states that Russia has kept close at its side.

”The democratic revolutions that swept this region over 15 years ago are now reaching Georgia and Ukraine,” Mr. Bush said. ”In 10 days, Moldova has the opportunity to place its democratic credentials beyond doubt as its people head to the polls. And inevitably, the people of Belarus will someday proudly belong to the country of democracies.”

The New York Times
February 25, 2005 Friday
Late Edition – Final
SECTION: Section A; Column 2; Editorial Desk; Pg. 23
HEADLINE: A Shell Game in the Arms Race
BYLINE: By Matthew Godsey and Gary Milhollin.
Matthew Godsey and Gary Milhollin are, respectively, a research associate and the director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control.
DATELINE: Washington

PRESIDENT BUSH has enjoyed a surprisingly jovial reception in Europe this week, but there has been a serious point of contention: the desire of European countries to lift the 15-year ban on arms sales to China. Given concerns that the Chinese are willing to sell military, and perhaps even nuclear, technology to the highest bidder, Mr. Bush’s stance seems admirable. Unfortunately, his reasonable skepticism about China’s intentions hasn’t translated into a solid commitment.

For example, earlier this month Under Secretary of State John Bolton scolded China for allowing its companies to spread weapons technology, saying the embargo was just as important ”today as it was in 1989.” Yet such talk is undermined by the State Department’s own failure to check Chinese companies’ reckless sales, and by weaknesses in American trade laws. In the end, China knows it has little to fear from Washington.

Case in point: Sinopec, China’s state-owned oil and gas giant, has subsidiaries that the State Department has hit with sanctions four times since 1997 for selling to Iran materials that could be used to make chemical weapons. However, because these subsidiaries do little or no business with the United States, the punishments — curbs on trade with America — were purely symbolic.

Sinopec itself has extensive ties with American companies, dealings Washington could block. Yet we refuse to punish it for anything its offshoots do. The reason is simple: American sanctions laws were written so that the government can hold a parent company responsible only if it ”knowingly” assists a sale by its subsidiary, a burden of proof our intelligence agencies can rarely meet. Why? Because our government is largely unwilling to hurt the financial interests of American firms that do business with companies like Sinopec.

This laxity on our part leaves Sinopec free to sell whatever it likes to Tehran. In 1997, the same year the State Department first cited subsidiaries of Sinopec for ”knowingly and materially contributing to Iran’s chemical weapon program,” Iran promised to increase oil exports to China by 40 percent. The following year, Iran chose the Chinese company over a host of European rivals to renovate oil refineries in Tehran and Tabriz, and to construct an oil terminal on the Caspian Sea. In 2001, when the State Department again censured a subsidiary for continuing sales to Iran of products useful for poison gas production, Sinopec won the right to explore Iran’s Zavareh-Kashan oilfield.

Then, last October, Sinopec pulled off its biggest coup: a $70 billion deal in which the Chinese company will buy hundreds of millions of tons of liquefied natural gas and will help Iran develop its Yadavaran oil field.

The fact is, the United States could lower the boom on Sinopec by cutting its ties to the American economy. In 2000, Sinopec raised some $3.5 billion by selling shares on the New York Stock Exchange, with Exxon-Mobil buying a large stake. Halliburton has since provided Sinopec a design for a new chemical plant; Bechtel has helped it build a petrochemical complex in China; and ConocoPhillips has aided it in oil and gas exploration.

And, believe it or not, in 2002 Sinopec received a $429,000 grant from the United States Trade and Development Agency. The purpose was to help an import-export subsidiary to develop an electronic procurement system. No matter that another Sinopec subsidiary, the awkwardly named Jiangsu Yongli Chemical Engineering and Technology Import/Export Corporation, was under sanctions for sales to Iran, or that Sinopec ranked among the 100 richest firms in the world according to Fortune magazine. Uncle Sam still wanted to help it market its products.

Sinopec is hardly the only beneficiary of American kindliness. Our weak laws have spared Sinosteel, China Aviation Industry Corporation I and II, and China North Industries Group Corporation, even though subsidiaries of these state-owned conglomerates have been sanctioned for selling missile technology to Iran and Pakistan. In large part, we can lay the blame for this charade on a compliant government and on political pressure from American companies, whose lobbyists work to ensure that federal sanctions laws are written to protect their corporate interests. This is a travesty, because cutting off access to our economy is the most powerful leverage we have, and our failure to use it shows we aren’t serious about punishing rogue states and their corporations.

Our laws need to be rewritten so that Sinopec and other companies that abet the spread of weaponry through their subsidiaries are kicked out of American capital markets, forbidden to deal with our companies and denied access to American goods and technology. Only then will they have an incentive to change their ways, and only then can our government honestly claim that it is trying to shut down the global arms bazaar.

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