Foreign Affairs

House committee probes U.N. technology sales to Iran and North Korea

House committee probes U.N. technology sales to Iran and North Korea

The House Foreign Affairs Committee announced Monday that it was initiating an inquiry into allegations that a United Nations agency provided sophisticated computers and technology to the governments of Iran and North Korea.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who chairs the committee, said in a statement that “the revelation that a United Nations agency has been supplying the brutal regimes in Iran and North Korea with sensitive technology is deeply disturbing, and must be thoroughly investigated.” Ros-Lehtinen went on to say that “this serious offense cannot go overlooked or unpunished.”

The House investigation follows a similar announcement made last week by the State Department into accusations of sanction-sidestepping by the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization, or WIPO, in Iran.

According to a State Department spokesman, “the State Department first became aware of a WIPO development project in Iran in early May 2012, while conducting a review of all WIPO projects in countries under U.N. Security Council sanctions,” the project in Iran saw at least 20 Hewlett-Packard computers along with other technological equipment shipped to Iran’s Industrial Property Office.

While in the case of North Korea, the WIPO is accused of attempting to pay Chinese intermediaries a sum of $52,638 in a technology transfer that seemingly bypasses United Nations safeguards imposed in North Korea after previous scandals and the WIPO’s own safeguards as Director-General Francis Gurry, it is claimed, personally initiated the sale, going around procedure.

However, the transaction was blocked by Bank of America, who hosts the United Nations’ bank accounts in China.

“Even with U.N. sanctions in place, officials at U.N. agencies have gone out of their way to flout these measures and help the outlaws in Tehran and Pyongyang,” Rep. Ros-Lehtinen said.

Although, the World Intellectual Property Organization, which was created by the United Nations in 1967 “to encourage creative activity” and “to promote the protection of intellectual property throughout the world,” claims to simply be following their U.N.-mandated mission to improve the enforcement of intellectual property by updating and digitizing patent systems and was in compliance with international sanctions.

Speaking to Bloomberg, legal counsel for the WIPO said the technology transfer “did not include the type of technology or training prohibited by the U.N. Security Council resolutions for the said countries.”

But, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen thinks the scandal speaks to fundamental problems within the United Nations, stating that “despite the Administration’s claims to have made significant strides in reforming the U.N., the U.N.’s actions tell a different story. Instead of throwing even more money at bad programs and hoping for the best, we need to condition our contributions to the U.N. on tangible reforms.”

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