Near the city of Qom, Iran has a secret plant that is part of its chemical weapons program, according to a secret U.S. cable sent by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which is part of the WikiLeaks documents. Clinton instructed the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to take action against a Chinese company that is involved in the transfer of equipment, know-how and technology to Iran.
The document, dated July 24, 2009, reveals American concerns about the company, Zibo Chemet, which has supplied vital equipment for Iran’s chemical-weapons program. Such sales are forbidden, according to the regulations of the Australia Group, which supervises the sale of sensitive chemical technology, equipment and materials. China is member of that group. According to the cable, “We have new information indicating that Zibo Chemet transferred technology for the production of glass-lined reactor equipment to Iranian customers, significantly enhancing Iran’s ability to produce indigenously chemical equipment suitable for a chemical warfare program.”
The cable asks the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to pass on information about the company to the Chinese government and demand that it take aggressive action to get the firm to cease its shipments. The cable also provides background on the company, revealing its dubious track record.
It says the company in April 2007 was blacklisted by the United States amid suspicions that it supplied similar equipment to Iran, North Korea and Syria. The earlier suspicions forced the Chinese government to open an investigation into the company and take “limited punitive action,” which is not detailed in the cable.
But, despite the company’s dubious past and the steps taken, it did not refrain from holding secret contacts with Iran. According to the cable, the company “recently transferred Australia Group-controlled technology to manufacture glass-lined chemical reactor vessels to the Iranian entity Shimi Azarjaam. This glass-lining plant is located in Shokoohieh Industrial Park, Qom.”
The equipment supplied by Zibo Chemet includes technology and expertise that would allow the Iranian company to produce glass-lined reactor vessels resistant to the chemicals they contain. The raw chemicals from which weapons such as nerve gas are produced are placed into these containers, which must be glass-coated so the chemicals don’t eat away at the containers and evaporate into the air.
Clinton’s cable shows that as the international community anxiously follows the progress of Iran’s nuclear program, Iran continues to develop conventional and unconventional weapons, including chemical ones. And this progress has gained momentum in recent months as the revolutions in the Middle East divert attention from the Islamic Republic. Iran’s decision to speed up the development of chemical weapons at the end of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War was one of the lessons of that conflict.
Saddam Hussein’s army used chemical weapons against front-line soldiers during that war; to this day thousands of these Iranian veterans are still suffering. One of the largest suppliers for Iran’s chemical program was Israeli businessman Nahum Manbar, now serving 16 years in prison. He is due to be released in two years, after all his requests for a reduced term were denied.