US Said to Impose Sanctions on Armenian Firms Over Ties With Iran

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The United States intends to impose sanctions on Armenian companies suspected of helping Iran acquire weapons of mass destruction–reports from Washington said on Wednesday.

However–the US embassy in Armenia on Thursday cast doubt on their credibility–saying that it is not aware of any such plans.

Reuters news agency quoted an unnamed senior American official as saying that the administration of President George W. Bush has decided to impose sanctions on Chinese–Armenian and Moldovan companies under the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000. The sanctions are imposed because of "weapons transactions with Iran"–part of what Bush calls the "axis of evil" along with Iraq and North Korea–said the official–adding that the US Congress would be formally notified soon of the decision.

But an official in the US embassy in Yerevan effectively denied the report–arguing that American diplomatic missions abroad are normally informed beforehand by Washington in such circumstances. "I find it very difficult to believe it because we have no such information," he said.

Armenian officials could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

The US official cited by Reuters did not disclose the names or numbers of the companies affected nor the exact nature of their activities. The official said the entities to be sanctioned are engaged in activities prohibited by multilateral export control lists"support for terrorism."We certainly look to Armenia for support in our efforts to deny Iran the means to acquire the weapons of mass destruction as well as to speak out against Iran’s support for terrorism–which has a particularly insidious impact on the Middle East peace process," he said.

Ordway appeared to be the fist American government official to have publicly voiced reservations about Armenia’s policy toward Iran.

The reported US plans to penalize Chinese–Armenian and Moldovan firms come amid Iranian claims that Washington and Tehran have held secret talks on ways of normalizing their relations. The official IRNA news agency quoted an influential Iranian lawmaker as saying that "there have been some discussions with the Americans" recently.

The US State Department rejected the claims as untrue.

Meanwhile–AFP reported Wednesday that US and Iranian diplomats will meet this week in Paris as the United States–France and Russia brief Iran on work to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The three countries co-chair the so-called Minsk Group on Karabakh which operates under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"As a neighboring state bordering both Armenia and Azerbaijan–Iran has a legitimate interest in being informed on the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process," said Eliza Koch–a State Department spokeswoman. But she stressed that the meeting "does not represent any change in US policy toward Iran."

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