U.S. praises China for stopping chemical transfer to Iran
Substance could be used to refine nuclear material
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. officials are praising a decision by China to prevent transfer to Iran of a chemical that could be used to process nuclear materials.
The United States learned about the possible transfer just weeks after China pledged to halt assistance to Iran's nuclear program. The pledge came in the wake of a visit to Washington by Chinese President Jiang Zemin last October.
"The Chinese followed through on it and kept their agreement to the letter," said President Bill Clinton. "I'm well pleased, actually, with the way that issue came out."
State Department spokesman James Rubin said the United States recently broached a possible deal with Chinese authorities involving a "Chinese entity" and Iran to transfer a quantity of anhydrous hydrogen fluoride, or AHF.
AHF is not on any international nuclear control list and is not directly used to enrich uranium to weapons grade. But it can be used to convert uranium to a gaseous form that could then be turned into weapons-grade material.
"Chinese authorities investigated the matter and promptly informed us that a transaction like that had not been agreed to and that China had no intention of making such a transaction," Rubin said.
"This is a case that demonstrates how nonproliferation works," Rubin said. "The fact that this was discussed and resolved to our satisfaction is an example of what happens when nonproliferation practices are working."
But critics of the Clinton administration's policies toward China believe the incident is fresh evidence that China's commitment to keeping its pledge not to help Iran is questionable.
U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Missouri, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the potential transfer "troubling" and said Clinton had a "policy of blind engagement" toward China.
Reuters contributed to this report.