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US freezes arms shipments to Lebanon: report

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) April 4, 2011
The United States has quietly frozen weapons shipments to Lebanon's armed forces following the collapse of the country's pro-Western government, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

The newspaper said the suspension was part of a broader review of US security assistance to Lebanon after the radical group Hezbollah emerged as a key player in the government.

Washington is above all concerned whether the Lebanese army will be able to control Hezbollah, which has backed billionaire businessman Najib Mikati as prime minister and was appointed on January 25 to form a new government.

The Shiite party, which is supported by Iran and Syria, toppled the Western-backed government of Saad Hariri in January after he refused to cut ties with a UN tribunal investigating his father's 2005 murder.

The arms freeze was recently approved by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, but the decision has not been publicly announced because of concerns the disclosure could interfere with delicate internal negotiations in Lebanon, the paper said.

Defense officials said the United States was continuing to provide training and non-lethal assistance to the Lebanese military, describing the ties that are active as "robust," the Journal noted.

Washington has given Lebanon more than $700 million in aid to help train and equip the army since a war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006.

"Our assistance programs continue. No decision regarding any kind of freeze has been made," State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in response to the article.

Toner, when asked by a journalist if all aspects of the program remain active, responded: "As far as I'm aware of, yes."

earlier related report
Suspects tried to smuggle military goods to China: US
Washington (AFP) April 4, 2011 - Two Chinese nationals were to appear before a US federal court Monday on charges of trying to smuggle military-related items from the United States to China, the Justice Department said.

Hong Wei Xian, 32, and Li Li, 33, were charged in a two-count indictment of conspiring to violate the US Arms Export Control Act.

The men are alleged to have tried to secretly ship thousands of radiation-hardened microchips to China between April 2009 and September 1, 2010.

Hong and Li allegedly divided their illegal shipments into small parcels mailed via third-party countries to avoid drawing attention to the orders.

The pair were arrested in Hungary last September and arrived back in the United States last week following extradition.

If convicted, they face a maximum penalty of five years in prison for the conspiracy charge and 20 years in prison on the export violation charge.

According to the indictment, Xian is the president of Beijing Starcreates Space Science and Technology Development Company Limited, and Li is the company's vice president, a Justice Department statement said.

Beijing Starcreates imports and sells programmable read-only memory microchips to China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, which is controlled by the Beijing government and plays a major role in the research and production of strategic and tactical missile systems and launch vehicles.

The US government since 1990 has enforced an arms embargo prohibiting the export or transfer of any defense article to China, including spacecraft systems and related equipment.

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