Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Bad Timing: Iran Arrests Two Chinese Nuclear Spys During SCO Talks

Posted by K.E. White on August 16, 2007

Summary: Iran sends an arrestingly loud message to China over its nuclear program. And what perfect timing: the nations’ two leaders are in the middle of SCO summit talks. Coincidence? Probably not. Read for more on this spy game gone wrong, and a possibly emerging counterweight to NATO.

Could it be China and America see eye-to-eye on Iran?

Probably not. But one thing’s clear: China and America share a profound—dare say arresting—curiosity over Iran’s developing nuclear program.

From the International Herald Tribune:

Iran has detained two Chinese nationals on charges of spying on its military and nuclear facilities, a government spokesman said Wednesday.

Though such accusations against Westerners are common in Iran, the announcement is the first such charge against China, with which Iran usually enjoys good relations.

“The Chinese nationals were detained while taking photo and recording video tape of a military complex in Arak city,” judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi told reporters. “They entered Iran through Kish Island as tourists.”

How this story was buried below reports of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard becoming a “specially designated global terrorist” by the White House, one can only guess.

The Guardian teases out this additional tidbit of diplomatic gossip:

It is believed to be the first time any Chinese have been charged with espionage in the country. Oil-rich Iran has recently enjoyed good relations with China, which has resisted US-led attempts to impose harsher sanctions on Tehran for its nuclear programme.

But what both reports miss is the ongoing SCO summit that Iran and China are both attending. For that part of the story, let’s take a look at the current front page of the China Daily (which as of 10 pm EST does not mention the detention/espionage issue):

President Hu Jintao discussed the Iranian nuclear issue and bilateral ties with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Wednesday before the start of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit Thursday.Chinese President Hu Jintao Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Bishkek August 15, 2007

Hu said China is keen on resolving the nuclear issue through peaceful negotiations.

He said China understands Iran’s concerns but hopes the country shows flexibility for the peaceful settlement of the issue.

Ahmadinejad said that Iran will not go beyond international laws and regulations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in using nuclear energy.

Talk about bad timing.

What’s the SCO you ask? It’s a six-member energy policy forum consisting of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. But just read this tid-bit from a very useful PINR article by Dr. Marcel de Haas:

Considering these recent activities in different dimensions of security, is the S.C.O. developing into a “N.A.T.O. of the east” as it was regularly described after the anti-Western flavor of the 2005 Astana Summit? The S.C.O. still lacks a considerable number of essential elements which N.A.T.O., as a mature security organization, has: an integrated military structure with permanent headquarters, a rapid reaction force (N.A.T.O. Response Force), and continuous political deliberations. Moreover, S.C.O. member states and observers cooperate in many areas but also possess large differences, such as contradictory political and economic interests.

Nevertheless, in spite of these shortcomings, the last couple of years the S.C.O. has taken steps in intensified cooperation in a wide scope of security dimensions. This has occurred to such an extent that development toward a genuine security organization can no longer be excluded, although this still might take a considerable number of years. Although the West at present does not have anything to fear from the S.C.O., current developments might encourage the West to closely observe further activities of the grouping. In any case, the time has gone that Western security experts could depict the S.C.O. as simply one of many insignificant organizations in the Asia-Pacific region.

Iran is an observer nation to the evolving treaty. As such, the timing of the arrests—or merely their announcement—seems designed to send an embarrassingly loud and clear message to China: Iran’s nuclear program—and presumable secrets—are for her, and her alone.

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