The Obama administration has concluded that Chinese firms are helping Iran to improve its missile technology and develop nuclear weapons, and has asked China to stop such activity, a senior U.S. official said.
During a visit to Beijing last month, a delegation led by Robert Einhorn, the State Department's special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, handed a "significant list" of companies and banks to their Chinese counterparts, according to the senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue in U.S.-Chinese relations. The official said the Obama administration thinks the companies are violating U.N. sanctions, but China did not authorize their activities.
The Obama administration faces a balancing act in pressing Beijing to stop the deals and limit Chinese investments in Iran's energy industry. U.S. officials say they need to preserve their ability to work with China on issues ranging from the value of its currency to the stability of North Korea. But the administration also wants to make progress in efforts to dissuade Iran from building a nuclear weapon and to convince other powerful states that China is not receiving lenient treatment because of its energy needs.
"My government will investigate the issues raised by the U.S. side," said Wang Baodong, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy.
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Einhorn's trip is part of a worldwide effort by the Obama administration to persuade countries to push Iran to enter into negotiations over its nuclear program, which the Islamic Republic says is peaceful. The Obama administration has cobbled together a growing network of countries and companies that have announced measures to cut investments in Iran.
China's involvement in Iran's energy sector and the role that some of its companies are believed to be playing in Tehran's military modernization could disrupt U.S.-Chinese relations. China's outgoing deputy chief of mission, Xie Feng, was told in a recent meeting on Capitol Hill that "if he ever wanted to see Congress united, Democrats and Republicans, it would be on the issue of China's interaction with Iran," one participant said, speaking on condition of anonymity.