Iran: Arms seized in Nigeria a 'misunderstanding'

Iran's foreign minister said Monday that the issue of an alleged Iranian arms shipment intercepted in Nigeria was a "misunderstanding" that has been settled.

Nigeria says the artillery rockets and other weapons, found at a Lagos port last month in shipping containers labeled as building supplies, originated in Iran and may have been destined for Nigerian politicians intending violence if they lose in upcoming elections. Nigeria said last week it would take action against Iran if an investigation shows it violated international law and U.N. sanctions, suggesting it might report Tehran to the world body.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said an Iranian implicated in the case has explained the situation to Nigerian authorities. "I think the misunderstandings have been settled in this field," Mottaki said, according to the state news agency IRNA.

Mottaki, who visited Lagos last week, also said he had replaced Iran's ambassador to Nigeria. Mottaki did not say whether the replacement was connected to the weapons case.

A spokesman for Nigeria's Foreign Ministry said the new ambassador's appointment had no connection with the arms seizure. The spokesman, Ozo Nwobu, declined to comment on Iran's assertion that the issue was the result of a misunderstanding and that it had been resolved.

"Investigations are ongoing to determine the level of Iranian involvement and it will be inappropriate for us to comment before allowing them to be concluded," Nwobu said.

In Iran, Mottaki did not elaborate on the nature of the misunderstanding or how it was resolved. His statement was the highest-level Iranian comment so far on the case. In late October, Iran's then-ambassador to Nigeria, Hussein Abdullahi, said there was no clear evidence linking his country to the shipment.

In a sign that tensions continued between the two countries, Nigeria postponed a soccer match against Iran's national team scheduled for Wednesday in Tehran.

Musa Amadu, the Nigerian federation's acting secretary general, told The Associated Press on Monday that the match was postponed "due to the non-availability of our key players." But he didn't a deny a connection with the political events, saying "it's for you to speculate."

An international shipping company based in France, CMA CGM, said it had picked up the containers in which the weapons were hidden in the southern Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. The shipment stopped in Mumbai, India, before heading to Lagos. On Friday, Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobia said Iranian officials confirmed the consignment originated in Iran.

During his visit, Mottaki cleared the way for Nigerian security officials to interview one of two Iranians who Nigeria says organized the shipment, Ajumogobia said. The Nigerians say the two have taken refuge in the Iranian Embassy.

The interception of the weapons had drawn sharp criticism of Iran from Nigeria. In a 2007 resolution stepping up sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, the U.N. Security Council banned Iranian arms exports, forbidding the sale or supply of weapons by Iran, whether directly or indirectly. It requires nations to prevent any such transfers and prevent their citizens from obtaining any weapons from Iran.

But Mottaki on Monday depicted the tensions as eased. He said he and the Nigerian foreign minister had held talks on bilateral relations and that Ajumogobia would visit Tehran. Mottaki said the appointment of a new ambassador to Nigeria would "create new opportunities for cooperation between the two countries."


Yinka Ibukun contributed to this report from Lagos, Nigeria.