Malaysia Gets Tough on WMD

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Malaysia Gets Tough on WMD

The seizure of contents from two container ships suggests Kuala Lumpur is getting tougher on WMD—and Iran.

Malaysia’s foreign policy tilt towards the West is securing some tangible results on the ground with the seizure of two containers bound for west Asia. Authorities are remaining coy on their contents, but the containers were believed to be carrying parts that could be used to make nuclear weapons.

National police chief Ismail Omar made a point of saying his men weren’t in a position to confirm—yet—if parts confiscated from a ship in Port Klang could be used in constructing weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Confirmation will have to come from the country’s nuclear agency as a matter of policy.

However, diplomats and analysts believe some of the parts are listed for restricted sale by the United Nations and could be used in WMD, including for a nuclear warhead.

The Malaysian-registered vessel was allowed to continue on its journey after being cleared. It had come from China, a known source country for high strength maraging steels, specialty vacuum pumps, Kevlar and carbon fibre—all essential ingredients for Iran and its nuclear programme. This is all despite China’s backing of the latest round of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council against Iran over its nuclear programme. (Tehran, for its part, insists that its programme is strictly for civilian use).

Sanctions have focused on Iranian finances and the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line—the national carrier, with a fleet of 170 vessels, which has been accused by Washington of ferrying
parts for nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to Iran from China.

IRISL ships have been seized in ports such as Singapore and Hong Kong as the company struggles to meet mortgage repayments, a consequence of those sanctions. South Korea temporarily shut down 102 companies linked to the programme.

Meanwhile, countries including Malaysian and Indonesia have distanced themselves from Iran.

Historically, Kuala Lumpur has failed to impress Western countries by declining to back sanctions, while Malaysia has also been linked to the trafficking of sensitive technology to Iran and Libya. The Malaysian government has rejected suggestions it was formally involved in nuclear shipments to Iran, but has acknowledged the involvement of one its citizens.

Malaysian companies Electronic Components and Skylife Worldwide were named in the WikiLeaks cables for acting as potential front companies for Tehran. However, Prime Minister Najib Razak signalled a change in stance almost immediately after taking over the top post in early 2009 by directing his envoys at the United Nations to vote in favour of sanctions against Iran.

Then, last year, Malaysia passed the Strategic Trade Bill, which imposes heavy penalties on the illegal trade of materials that can be used in WMD.

If the Port Klang seizures prove to contain such material, then Kuala Lumpur will have notched up a significant victory, endearing itself to Western powers. Perhaps more importantly, Malaysia’s willingness to act on the bill will go a long way in casting aside any doubts over its commitment to UN sanctions on Iran.