By Emil Danielyan
Armenia said on Friday it will cooperate with the United States in establishing whether Armenian companies have helped Iran develop weapons of mass destruction. The move followed an official confirmation that Washington has imposed sanctions on unnamed Chinese, Armenian and Moldovan firms for allegedly transferring sensitive technology and equipment to Tehran.
"We will be imposing some penalties on Armenian, Chinese and Moldovan entities pursuant to the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters on Thursday. "The penalties are being imposed on entities for the transfer to Iran of equipment and technology listed on multilateral export control lists."
Boucher said the U.S. Congress was notified of the decision earlier in the day and it will soon be published in the Federal Register. He refused to disclose the names or numbers of the companies affected or the exact nature of their activities, saying that they will appear in the official journal of the U.S. government.
Reacting to the news, President Robert Kocharian said Armenia will look into the U.S. claims and hopes that the Bush administration will back them with evidence. "If this is true, we will have to find out why this happened," Kocharian told reporters in Yerevan after returning from a one-week tour of South America.
The Armenian foreign ministry, for its part, said late on Friday that it has already began an “active dialogue with the U.S. State Department to clarify the situation and find solutions to the resulting problems.”
An official from the U.S. embassy in Armenia told RFE/RL Thursday that the embassy is not aware of any plans to penalize Armenian companies trading with neighboring Iran.
Boucher made it clear that the governments of Armenia, China and Moldova will not be affected by the sanctions, adding that “the Moldavians and the Armenians have been very helpful” in U.S. efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. "We appreciate the efforts that Moldova and Armenia have made in non proliferation," he said.
The Armenian firms to be sanctioned by the U.S. allegedly engaged in activities prohibited by multilateral export control lists which seek to curb the transfer of longer-range missiles and prevent the spread of chemical and biological weapons. They will now be barred from receiving U.S. government assistance, selling their products to the United States and purchasing American defense items. The restrictions will be in effect for two years.
With other relevant information extremely scant, analysts in Yerevan found it difficult to draw a list of local firms that could be covered by the U.S. sanctions. No Armenian company has until now be implicated in dubious dealings with Iran, Iraq or North Korea -- countries branded part of the "axis of evil" by President George W. Bush.
According to official figures, Armenian exports to Iran stood at $32.5 million last year. Scrap metals, notably aluminium and copper, were the single largest export totalling about $12 million. Armenia also exported more than $5 million worth of various, mostly metal-cutting, machines and about the same dollar amount of copper ore.
Also exported to Iran were insignificant amounts of chemical substances such as synthetic rubber, polymers and various oxides. Experts say none of them could be used for the production of chemical weapons.
It is not clear whether Armenia’s stagnating industries that used to be part of the Soviet military-industrial complex have preserved the capacity to manufacture electronic components for long-range missile systems, the sale of which is prohibited under the U.S. Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000.
Nor has the U.S. previously expressed concern about the possibility of Armenia transferring nuclear technology to Iran which has been building a nuclear power station with Russian assistance. Washington is strongly opposed to the multimillion-dollar project, arguing that it could help Tehran develop its own nuclear weapons. Armenia, which has a Soviet-era nuclear plant on its soil, has shown interest in participating in the construction of the Iranian facility in the past. But so far there have been no Armenian-Iranian agreements to that effect.