UNITED NATIONS: Belarus is the latest country that Western powers suspect of helping Iran skirt UN sanctions aimed at preventing it from expanding its ballistic missile and nuclear programmes, Western diplomats told Reuters.
If the suspicions are confirmed, the already isolated Belarus would join China, Russia, Syria, North Korea, Turkey and other states Western powers believe have helped Tehran flout UN measures since the Security Council adopted its first sanctions resolution against Iran in late 2006.
The suspicions were expected to be raised during a visit by several members of a UN panel of experts to Belarus this month to discuss compliance with the UN ban on selling Iran nuclear and missile technology, diplomats said.
Tehran, accused by Western powers and their allies of developing a nuclear-weapons capability under the guise of a civilian atomic-energy program, says its nuclear ambitions are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity. Iran also dismisses all sanctions against it as illegal. Diplomats said on condition of anonymity that Belarus is beginning to act as a kind of middleman to help secure the Iranians access to Russian technology.
"Belarus is becoming a key element in Iran's efforts to develop its surface-to-surface missile and nuclear capabilities, especially with regard to navigation and guidance products, which are defined as dual-use," a diplomat said.
"Belarus is becoming increasingly important to Iran, due to the drastic reduction in Iran's ability to procure products from countries such as China, Russia and Dubai, which used to be its major sources of such procurement," he said.
Several Western diplomats confirmed his remarks about Iran and Belarus, including the Iranians' interest in navigation and guidance technology for their missile program.
Belarus itself has been under US and European Union sanctions since the President, Mr Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, launched a crackdown on protesters in December 2010 following a presidential election that Lukashenko's critics say he rigged.
The country is now in the throes of economic crisis. One diplomat from a country that has been critical of Iran's nuclear programme gave an example of how Belarus has entered into the picture. He cited intelligence information that a Belarussian businessman named Yuri Charniauski has been trying to secure technology for his company, TM Services, from a Russian firm named Optolink in order to sell it to Iran.
Charniauski, from Belarus, denied the allegation, saying he had no business dealings with Iran.