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Feb. 9, 2017
Notes from the Pentagon

Sanctions highlight China-Iran missile connection
The Trump administration recently imposed sanctions on Iran for its missile test, and the sanctions reveal that Tehran’s missile program is backed by covert assistance from China.

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which enforces U.S. sanctions, said last week that a “Chinese-based network” was helping procure goods for Iran’s ballistic missile program.

The sanctions designated 13 people and 12 companies who were placed under the Treasury restrictions that prohibit any U.S. companies from doing financial transactions with them. The action followed a flight test Jan. 29 of an Iranian medium-range missile that failed a short time after launch.

The sanctions were unusual for identifying two Chinese nationals, Xianhua Jack Qin and Yaodong Richard Yue. Also named was Carol Zhou, also believed to be part of the Chinese procurement network but whose nationality was not disclosed by Treasury.

Additionally, two Chinese companies were targeted: Ningbo New Century Import and Export Co. Ltd, based in the eastern port city of Ningbo and managed by Mr. Qin; and Cosailing Business Trading Co. Ltd. based in Qingdao. Mr. Yue told the Reuters news service that he is with Cosailing and had his bank account frozen.

“I export to lots of countries, and Iran is a customer too. That’s totally normal,” Mr. Yue said.

Cosailing trades in a variety of products including industrial machinery and furnaces. An internet search indicates Mr. Qin is Ningbo’s manager and that it manufactures commutators for electric motors and electrical tools, as well as vehicle parts.

China’s backing of Iran’s missile program was detailed in leaked State Department cables made public on the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

The cables reveal that Chinese firms have provided a range of missile-related goods including specialty steel, accelerometers, ball bearings and gyroscopes.

Iran’s Shahid Bakeri Industrial Group has acquired Chinese-made graphite cylinders, tungsten powder and tungsten copper-alloy ingots. The group is in charge of Iran’s solid-propellant ballistic missile program.

A report on Iran’s ballistic missile program from 2008 states that Tehran was developing several medium-range ballistic missiles, including the deployed Shahab-3 with a range of 800 miles; an improved Shahab-3 with a range of 1,242 miles; and the Ghadr-1 with a range of 1,100 miles. Another medium-range missile is the Seijil, with a range of 1,200 miles.

A 2009 State Department cable said: “Chinese firms over the past year have offered or sold [Missile Technology Control Regime]-controlled and non-annex items to ballistic missile-related entities in foreign countries, including Iran, Pakistan, and Syria. In some cases, sales have continued despite extensive information provided by the U.S. to Chinese authorities outlining our concerns about these firms’ activities.”

The transfers have violated U.S. nonproliferation laws, the U.S. government says.

“Iran’s continued support for terrorism and development of its ballistic missile program poses a threat to the region, to our partners worldwide, and to the United States,” acting OFAC Director John E. Smith said in a statement Jan. 3. The sanctions are aimed at countering “Iranian malign activities,” he added.

“We will continue to actively apply all available tools, including financial sanctions, to address this behavior,” he said.

Since becoming taking office Jan. 20, President Trump has waged a relentless information war against his political enemies, using Twitter attacks and public speeches to take on opponents in the news media, Congress, the courts and elsewhere.

As result, the president has come under unprecedented media counterattack.

A review of recent network news broadcasts and newspapers reveals major outlets are devoting large blocks of time and ink to criticizing Mr. Trump, mainly through political counterattacks on Trump nominees and executive orders, and especially the travel restrictions imposed on immigration from seven Muslim-majority states. Mr. Trump’s charges of 3 million illegal votes also has been targeted.

The battles are part of an escalating digital and information conflict playing out in Washington and on social media.

The heavy political and media criticism would have crushed lesser political leaders, but apparently not Mr. Trump, who appears to relish the combat.

“I call my own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data, and everyone knows it. Some FAKE NEWS media, in order to marginalize, lies!” the president said Monday in a tweet characterizing his defiant stance.

Mr. Trump has proved to be a master of Twitter more than other media, something he showed during the election campaign.

Using the 140-character microblog, Mr. Trump belittled, insulted and ultimately vanquished a large field of Republican primary rivals. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was tagged “low energy.” Sen. Marco Rubio became “Little Marco.” Sen. Ted Cruz was labeled “Lyin’ Ted.”

For the general election, Mr. Trump gained traction with “Crooked Hillary” that became a rallying cry against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose campaign was overshadowed by FBI investigations of her improper use of an unsecure email server.

Democratic obstructionism against nominees, including Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general, prompted the president to say Jan. 31, “When will the Democrats give us our Attorney General and rest of Cabinet! They should be ashamed of themselves! No wonder D.C. doesn’t work!”

The travel restrictions led Mr. Trump to take on the Washington state judge who blocked the ban, labeling him a “so-called judge” who is undermining American security by ordering a temporary halt to the ban.

Prior to inauguration, Mr. Trump also challenged U.S. intelligence assessments of Russian hacking and influence operations but toned down his criticism after receiving classified briefings.

On the foreign policy and national security front, Mr. Trump has launched a barrage of tweets outlining his priorities, including building up American nuclear forces and increased cybersecurity.

Iran has been a major target along with radical Islamic terrorism, a distinct shift from the Obama administration’s refusal to identify terrorists as driven by Islam.

Mr. Trump has yet to respond directly to comments he made Sunday to Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly about Vladimir Putin.

Mr. O’Reilly asked why the president appears to be supporting Mr. Putin, whom the Fox host described as a “killer,” an apparent reference to his assassination of political opponents.

Mr. Trump responded by comparing the Russian leader to U.S. leaders. “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent? You think our country’s so innocent?” he said.

Mr. O’Reilly then said he is unaware of any U.S. government leaders who are killers.

“Well, take a look at what we’ve done too,” Mr. Trump said. “We’ve made a lot of mistakes. I’ve been against the war in Iraq from the beginning.”

Mr. O’Reilly: “Yes. Mistakes are different than “

“A lot of mistakes, OK, but a lot of people were killed. So a lot of killers around, believe me,” Mr. Trump said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Trump tweeted that “I don’t know Putin, have no deals in Russia, and the haters are going crazy — yet Obama can make a deal with Iran, #1 in terror, no problem!”

The director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency has managed to hang on to the job for five months despite a successor being named and confirmed by the Senate.

The long delay has led some defense officials to wonder whether Vice Adm. James D. Syring is reluctant to give up the post of MDA director he has held since November 2012. The office is responsible for the Pentagon’s annual multibillion-dollar program of developing weapons and systems to defense military forces around the world.

His replacement, Air Force Lt. Gen. Samuel A. Greaves, was nominated in September and confirmed by the full Senate that month but has yet to make the shift from the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles.

MDA spokesman Chris Johnson said the delay in change of command is because of selecting replacements but added that the handover won’t take place anytime soon.

“The department is currently coordinating the transition schedule,” Mr. Johnson told Inside the Ring. “There can sometimes be a delay between the selection of a replacement and the transition for senior military positions due to the need to select replacements for positions further down the chain of command. We expect the MDA transition to occur by this summer.”

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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