November 29, 2010 / 7:10 AM / 9 years ago

U.S. tackled China over North Korea nuclear trade: media

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The United States has complained to Beijing several times over the transshipment of missile components from North Korea to Iran via China, the Guardian newspaper reported.

The report comes as China faces mounting international demands to bring its ally North Korea to heel following last week’s bombardment of a South Korean island and reports it was at an advanced stage in a trying to enrich uranium, which would give it a second source of material for making atomic weapons.

On one occasion, three years ago, Washington pressed China to act "urgently" to halt a transshipment, the British daily said in report posted on its website Sunday quoting U.S. diplomatic cables -- originally released by the website WikiLeaks, some of which were made available to the Guardian and other media. r.reuters.com/buh57q

The United States has long expressed concern that the isolated North could become an illicit exporter of material for nuclear weapons, including to Iran.

The Guardian quoted an internal cable dated November 3, 2007 and signed by then U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, as saying a North Korean cargo of missile jet vanes destined for the Shahid Bagheri Industrial Group, which runs Iran’s solid-fuel ballistic missile program, was due to be shipped to Iran from Beijing the following day aboard a scheduled Iran Air flight.

Rice instructed the U.S. ambassador to raise the issue “at the earliest opportunity” and “at the highest level possible” to persuade the Chinese authorities to halt the delivery.

The newspaper quoted another cable, sent by current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in May, expressing concern that exports by named Chinese firms “could be used for or diverted to a CW program.” Clinton asked whether the suspect transfers were approved by the Chinese government and warns that sanctions may be imposed.

“We request that the Chinese government take all steps necessary to investigate this matter and to prevent Iran from acquiring dual-use equipment and technology that could be used in its CW program.”

The cable noted that the United States had raised its concerns with Chinese officials on numerous occasions and listed at least 10 instances in which it said North Korean shipments of ballistic missiles parts to Iran passed unimpeded through Beijing.

Separately, the New York Times said the leaked cables showed that U.S. and South Korean officials have discussed the prospects for a unified Korea, should the North's economic troubles and political transition lead the state to implode. r.reuters.com/cuh57q

The South Koreans even considered commercial inducements to China, according to the U.S. ambassador to Seoul. The New York Times quoted her as telling Washington in February that South Korean officials believed that the right business deals would help salve China’s concerns about living with a reunified Korea that is in a “benign alliance” with the United States.

In a report last month, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) said that even though most believe China views North Korea's nuclear weapons program as destabilizing to the region, Beijing is not applying enough resources to detect and stop North Korea's illicit nuclear trade. r.reuters.com/guh57q

“As China seeks to be a global leader, it should also be willing to shoulder the responsibilities that attend such a status. Preventing nuclear proliferation is one of the most important global responsibilities,” the report wrote.

Editing by Alex Richardson

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