WASHINGTON — U.S. officials disclosed Tuesday that a shipload of Chinese-made artillery shells was delivered to Iran within the last week and said that new sales of Silkworm missiles may be in the works.
The weapons deals infuriated Reagan Administration officials, who have demanded that China stop supplying arms to Iran, which has used the weapons in its eight-year war with Iraq and in recent attacks on neutral shipping in the Persian Gulf.
The United States is particularly concerned about new sales of Silkworm anti-ship missiles, used by Iran in the last two weeks to strike a U.S.-registered Kuwaiti tanker and a U.S.-owned freighter in the waters near Kuwait.
Iran is believed to have between 100 and 200 of the mobile missiles, which carry 1,000-pound warheads and can hit targets up to 50 miles away.
China has repeatedly denied selling weapons to Iran, saying that the Tehran regime could have acquired the arms in the international open market. U.S. officials contend that China is supplying the weapons through Hong Kong and North Korea.
Under Secretary of State Michael H. Armacost will deliver a strong protest over the latest arms sales when he visits Beijing later in the week, a State Department official said Tuesday.
The shipload of Chinese artillery shells was tracked to Iran by U.S. intelligence agencies, according to sources, who would not disclose their exact route. Officials were less certain about further shipments of Silkworm missiles.
"It's not clear whether they are concluding a new deal or if they just have the stuff in train" from a previous sale, one official said, requesting anonymity.
Retaliation by U.S.
Last week, the State Department announced that the U.S. government will not relax restrictions on the sale of American high-technology goods to China, as scheduled, because of China's continuing military sales to Iran. The decision followed Iran's Silkworm attack on the U.S.-registered Sea Isle City off Kuwait on Oct. 16.
U.S. officials said the United States has tried for more than a year to persuade China to stop selling arms to Tehran.
Meanwhile, an Iranian resistance group said Tuesday it has learned that a Silkworm launcher was moved over the weekend from the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the gulf to the Faw Peninsula at the gulf's northern end. The Pentagon has said the Silkworms fired toward Kuwait in recent weeks came from a missile emplacement on the Faw Peninsula, which Iran captured from Iraq in February, 1986.
Ali Safavi, spokesman for the Moujahedeen organization, said at a press conference that the government of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini plans to launch a missile attack "in the coming days." He said he has no information about the intended target.
Safavi said the Iranian government bought the Silkworm missiles as part of a $400-million arms package negotiated with China early last year. Also included in the deal were an unspecified number of Chinese HQ-2J missiles, a version of the Soviet SAM-2 surface-to-air missiles.