Washington: Western authorities are investigating whether an Iranian firm acquired valves and vacuum gauges used to enrich uranium through the representative of a Chinese firm, the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday.
The report appeared as the United States sought China`s support for a new round of sanctions to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear activities are peaceful and legitimate.
Purchase of the equipment could violate export sanctions. The newspaper cited a diplomat in Vienna as saying the International Atomic Energy Administration and western intelligence agencies were investigating.
The probe was sparked by a January 14 e-mail to IAEA. It alleged an Iranian firm, Javedan Mehr Toos (JMT), acquired the French-made valves through an intermediary who represented Zheijiang Ouhai Trade Corp, a subsidiary of Jinzhou Group, based in China, said the report.
Western officials told the newspaper that JMT has worked since last year to acquire nuclear materials on behalf of an Iranian firm, Kalaye Electric Co, involved in centrifuge research and development, part of Iran`s work toward uranium enrichment capacity.
Kalaye is on anti-proliferation list maintained by the US Treasury Department, which bars trade with specified persons, businesses and entities to prevent the spread of nuclear arms. Neither JMT nor the Chinese business are listed.
A Treasury spokeswoman would not confirm the report.
"On any given day, Treasury is actively working dozens of cases ... involving hundreds of potential targets for designation, but to comment on any particular investigation or pending designation would threaten the integrity and effectiveness of our actions," said the spokeswoman.
A senior diplomat in Vienna said many of the valves used in uranium enrichment facilities are subject to export controls. "They are needed in big numbers, at least in thousands, for installations like Natanz," said the diplomat, referring to Iran`s main enrichment plant.
The Wall Street Journal said it was not known how many valves allegedly were acquired by JMT or how significant they were in Iran`s nuclear work. It said the maker, KD Valves-Descote, formerly was owned by the US conglomerate Tyco International. Both firms said they had not been contacted by investigators and did not know how the materials could have reach Iran.