UN demands answers on Iran arms ship

France, British envoys describe shipment believed bound for Gaza as "gross violation" exports ban.

cyprus ship iran arms hamas 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
cyprus ship iran arms hamas 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Iran and Syria have until next week to explain to a United Nations sanctions committee how they were involved with a ship detained off Cyprus in January found to be loaded with explosives believed to be bound for Gaza. The ambassadors of France and Britain described the episode at a Security Council meeting held Tuesday in New York as a "gross violation" of existing resolutions banning Iranian arms exports. "The United Kingdom 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," said British envoy John Sawers. Both countries are required to respond within ten working days, according to a statement from Japanese ambassador Yukio Takasu, who chairs the Security Council committee set up in 2006 to oversee Iran sanctions. The committee determined February 6 that Iran was in violation of existing sanctions but has not taken any punitive action. Both French ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert and US envoy Susan Rice invited Iran to use the opportunity to engage in diplomatic negotiations on its nuclear and other arms programs. "The United States will not waver in its determination to ensure that Iran does not obtain nuclear weapons but the United States also sees an opportunity - a chance for the Iranian government to demonstrate that it is willing to unclench its fist and begin a serious, responsible discussion about a range of issues," Rice said in her formal remarks. She added that President Obama, who had his first formal meeting Tuesday in Washington with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, was engaged in a comprehensive review of US policy on Iran. Neither Iran nor Syria sent representatives to speak at Tuesday's meeting. Both have denied allegations from Washington that the munitions were intended for delivery to Hamas. Syria sent a delegation to Cyprus in late February to pressure officials there into handing over the cargo from the ship, according to an Associated Press report that cited unnamed government officials from an undisclosed Middle Eastern country. The AP said Cypriot officials denied any formal negotiations with the Syrians over the cargo. Diplomats in New York have told The Jerusalem Post that Cyprus has been eager to cooperate with its European Union allies on the issue, but the island nation has not yet taken any steps to destroy the cargo offloaded from the Cypriot-flagged ship Monchegorsk. The ship docked Jan 29 in Cyprus after being turned away from an Egyptian port. The British have offered help to dispose of the munitions "in whatever way we can." Tuesday's Security Council session was overseen by Libyan charge d'affaires Ibrahim Dabbashi, who currently holds the month-long presidency of the Security Council. Speaking for Libya, he noted that he and other Arab diplomats found it "frustrating" that the Security Council was not equally concerned with Israeli nuclear programs as with Iran's suspected efforts to build an atomic bomb. Officials at the Israeli mission told the Post they would not respond to Dabbashi's comments.