Iran Says Steel Stopped in Azerbaijan Not Military

TEHRAN (Reuters)–Iran has denied that a shipment of steel suitable for making missiles which was stopped in Azerbaijan had any links to the Iranian military.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mahmoud Mohammadi–quoted by Tehran newspapers on Wednesday–said the 22-ton shipment of stainless steel had no connection to military or non-military government bodies in Iran.

"The alloy in question–which could also have non-military uses–may have been ordered by (Iran’s) private sector and the government is looking into the matter," Mohammadi was quoted as saying.

In Washington–the US State Department said on Tuesday that the US government had tested a sample of the cargo and determined that it was suitable for making missiles. It said the steel was stopped in Azerbaijan last month in transit from Russia to Iran.

But Mohammadi denied Iran’sought to develop weapons of mass destruction.

"America and the Zionist regime (Israel) try to divert public opinion from the dangers posed by Israel…by raising baseless accusations against Iran," Mohammadi said.

State Department spokesman James Foley said Azerbaijan had told the United States March 25 that its customs officials had detained the shipment of Russian steel at the Azerbaijan-Iran border–because the shipping documen’s did not match the cargo.

He said Washington had asked Azerbaijan to hold the shipment for further investigation–and had shared its findings with both the Azerbaijani and Russian governmen’s.

Subsequently–the Russian Federal Security Service said April 7 that it had arrested three people who were involved in attempting to export steel alloy to Iran–Foley said.

He declined to say whether the United States had asked Azerbaijan in the first place to stop the shipment.

The United States has appointed a special envoy–Ambassador Robert Gallucci–to deal with Russia on arms transfers to Iran.

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