This sounds familiar
February 04, 2010.
FOUR Australian shipments to Iran have been secretly blocked by Defence Minister John Faulkner amid fears the cargo was destined for use in a weapons-of-mass-destruction program.
As the international community considers tougher sanctions against Iran over its nuclear ambitions, the Australian government has taken extraordinary measures to prevent suspicious exports reaching the Middle East.
In a significant departure from conventional trade laws, Senator Faulkner has used powers afforded to him under the Weapons of Mass Destruction (Prevention of Proliferation) Act to demand local companies tear up their distribution contracts and abandon their foreign customers.
It is understood at least one prohibition notice related to a planned shipment of pumps that could have been used to cool nuclear power plants. The nature of the other shipments remains unclear.
The 15-year-old law had only been used once before - to secretly block another shipment to Iran in 2005 - but has now been used four times in as many months as the diplomatic and trade war with Iran escalates.
Australia has already imposed autonomous trade sanctions against Iran, and is considering a tougher stance, but they are largely enforced under different legislation.
Kevin Rudd has already taken aim at Iran over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's vitriolic attacks on Israel, warning in 2008 Australia could seek to have him prosecuted for inciting genocide.
That was in response to the Iranian political leader's repeated claims that Israel should be wiped off the map. The Prime Minister denounced Mr Ahmadinejad's comments as "dangerous stuff ".
The WMD act is designed specifically to "prohibit the supply or export of goods that will or may be used in . . . the development, production, acquisition or stockpiling of weapons capable of causing mass destruction or missiles capable of delivering such weapons."
Senator Faulkner, acting on intelligence from his and other agencies, has issued prohibition orders to three companies which have sought to export such goods - one of which attempted to fulfil a second export contract only to be blocked again.
The companies were either trying to export directly to Iran or to destinations considered at risk of diversion to Iran.
The Australian understands other companies have been threatened with prohibition orders but voluntarily agreed to avoid any commercial dealings with possible associates of the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has declared Iran to be potentially the world's most pressing problem this year. The government is likely to raise the need for tougher sanctions during US President Barack Obama's visit next month.
While Mr Smith refused to comment yesterday, Senator Faulkner confirmed he had intervened to prevent Australia being used to potentially further Iran's WMD program.
"I do not make such decisions lightly," Senator Faulkner told The Australian.
"I am very conscious of commercial effects on any Australian company affected by such decisions."
Senator Faulkner said while those companies were consulted, he had an obligation to act on the available advice.
"There is nothing more that can be said publicly," he said.
Some of Iran's previous pump suppliers have been convicted and fined as part of a worldwide crackdown on the trade in WMD components.
Last month in the US, three men, including an Iranian-born chemical engineer, were charged over allegations that they attempted to ship pumps and other items to Iran, via the United Arab Emirates, and conceal the true value and nature of their shipments.
Senator Faulkner has no evidence that the WMD act has been breached and remains tight-lipped on the advice that led to the prohibition orders. In October 2008, the Rudd government imposed tougher sanctions against Iran but shied away from an election promise to take Mr Ahmadinejad to the world court for inciting genocide and threatening Israel.
More recently, Mr Smith has vowed to consider further sanctions if Iran continues to refuse to abandon its nuclear program.
Even with the trade sanctions, Australian exports to Iran increased significantly last year, surpassing $600 million for the first time in seven years.