UNITED NATIONS – A key Security Council committee reported Tuesday that Iran violated U.N. sanctions by trying to send weapons-related material to Syria on a cargo ship now docked in Cyprus.
Japan's U.N. Ambassador Yukio Takasu, chairman of the committee monitoring sanctions against Iran, provided few details, but his report marked the first official confirmation that the Cypriot-flagged M/V Monchegorsk was trying to circumvent the U.N. arms embargo on Iran. The ship docked on Jan. 29 and is still there, diplomats said.
France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert described its shipment as "explosives and ... arms."
Takasu said a U.N. member state — identified by the United States, Britain and France as Cyprus — sent a letter to the committee in early February "seeking guidance with respect to its inspections of cargo on a vessel carrying its flag that was found to be carrying arms-related material."
The committee responded with a letter saying the transfer of the material was a violation of a 2007 Security Council resolution that prohibits Iran from transferring any arms or related material and requires all countries to prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran, Takasu said.
He told the council that the committee sent letters "to concerned member states" on March 9 asking for "any relevant information regarding this transaction" within 10 days.
Copies of the letters to Iran and Syria, obtained by The Associated Press, said the ship's manifest indicated that the Monchegorsk was chartered by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line, that the cargo was loaded in Iran and was to be unloaded in Lataki, Syria.
The letters said the committee had received the results of inspections conducted on Jan. 29 and Feb. 2 on a portion of the cargo which found arms-related material, including items described as "bullet shells," high explosive shells, 125 mm armor-piercing shells, and high explosive anti-tank propellant.
All 15 Security Council nations are members of the sanctions committee, which means the letters and Takasu's report had the backing of the entire council.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador John Sawers praised "the vigilance and cooperation" of Cyprus and said his country "looks forward to the committee receiving explanations from Iran and Syria as to why the shipment was permitted by Iran as the reported state of origin, and as to the involvement of Syria as the reported state of destination."
Council diplomats say the ultimate destination of the weapons-related material remains unknown — possibly Hamas fighters in Gaza, Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, or Iraqis with close ties to Syria.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice condemned the sanctions violation. She made no mention of reports from European diplomats that the U.S. Navy intercepted the Monchegorsk, confirmed the presence of arms-related material and alerted Cypriot officials.
France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert expressed concern because the shipment of "explosives and ... arms" violated sanctions imposed after Iran refused to suspend uranium enrichment.
Cyprus, with its nearest coastal point only 60 miles (less than 100 kilometers) west of Syria, has traditionally been close to the Arab world. But the Greek-majority island is geographically part of Europe and joined the European Union in 2004.
There has been no decision on what to do with the cargo, though Britain has signaled that it is ready to help Cyprus dispose of it.