Reuters: A German crane on a ship to Iran is testing a U.S.-led global agreement to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Three weeks after the ship left Hamburg and a day before it was due in Iran, it appeared unlikely that Germany or the U.S. navy could stop the crane being delivered to what Berlin has belatedly identified as a blacklisted Iranian company suspected of making ballistic missiles. Reuters
By Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent
BERLIN – A German crane on a ship to Iran is testing a U.S.-led global agreement to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Three weeks after the ship left Hamburg and a day before it was due in Iran, it appeared unlikely that Germany or the U.S. navy could stop the crane being delivered to what Berlin has belatedly identified as a blacklisted Iranian company suspected of making ballistic missiles.
A Western diplomat said Washington was closely following the case as a test for its Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI).
That accord was unveiled by President George W. Bush in 2003 as a collective global effort to stop “shipments of weapons of mass destruction, their delivery systems, and related materials worldwide.”
“The Americans are monitoring (this situation) closely at a very high level in Washington. They see it as a test case for the PSI,” the diplomat said on Thursday.
The crane was cleared for export by German customs and left Hamburg on April 7 on board the freighter Hual Africa for delivery to an Iranian company called Mizan Machine, a spokesman for manufacturers Liebherr said.
Late last week the ship’s Norwegian charterers, Leif Hoegh and Co, were told by their Foreign Ministry in Oslo that the Germans had “some questions” about the cargo and the Iranian company was on “some sort of watchlist”, Hoegh spokesman Olav Sollie said.
“It’s not a question of the crane. It’s not on any list (of banned items). The problem is the company Mizan Machine,” the Western diplomat told Reuters.
A second diplomat said Mizan was “a known front for Iran’s missile programme “but had no known connection to its nuclear activities.
It was the second case to surface this year involving sensitive shipments from Germany to Iran.
In January, German investigators raided a Hanover company and seized four special motors they suspected were about to be illegally exported to an Iranian nuclear power plant. They said they were trying to intercept another shipment already en route.
Asked on Thursday for an update on that case, a spokesman for German customs police said: “We believe some of the motors reached Iran, that’s what we must assume.”
The United States accuses Iran of pursuing atomic weapons under cover of a civilian nuclear programme. Iran denies this, and a Foreign Ministry spokesman this week denied the German crane was intended to be used in arms production.
“This is a baseless claim and theory. It is unclear how crane equipment can be used in Shahab missiles,” he said. Iran announced last October successful trials of its Shahab-3 ballistic missile with a range of 1,250 miles (2,000 km).
Doug Richardson, editor of specialist defence publication Jane’s Missiles and Rockets, said a crane would not help construct the 16.5 metre-long Shahab 3 or transport it in the field. He said it could conceivably be used to lift a missile on to a test stand.
Makers Liebherr described the crane as an industry-standard all-terrain model.
“FRONT FOR MISSILE PROGRAMME”
It was unclear what further action German authorities or U.S. naval forces in the Gulf could take.
The Norwegian shipping company said it had received no request to halt or re-route the vessel, which docked in Oman on Thursday and was due in Iran’s port of Bandar Abbas on Friday.
Company spokesman Sollie said it was too late now to change the ship’s itinerary. “We are past the time when we, in any easy way at least, could find solutions.”
He said the Norwegian foreign ministry told him on Thursday it did not appear the Germans intended to take any action to stop the ship. German government officials declined to comment.