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former IAEA Director-General

Nigeria Intercepts Iran Arms Shipment
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Peter Crail

Nigeria has seized a weapons shipment from Iran that appears to violate a UN arms embargo, Nigerian Foreign Minister Henry Odein Ajumogobia told reporters in New York Nov. 16.

After “preliminary investigations,” Nigeria’s permanent mission in New York reported the October seizure to a UN sanctions committee, Ajumogobia said.

Nigerian officials said the shipment contained artillery rockets and small arms and ammunition. The French-based company CMA CGM, which transported the containers, said in an Oct. 30 statement that the shipping containers were labeled as “packages of glass wool and pallets of stone” and were picked up in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and unloaded in the Nigerian port of Lagos in July, where they were transferred to a customs depot.

Two sets of shipping documents obtained by the Nigerian authorities were found to have been associated with the 13-container shipment. An initial set consigned the containers to a Nigerian, while a second set said that the shipment was bound for Gambia. Ajumogobia said the investigation into the actual destination was continuing.

The Gambian government issued a statement Nov. 22 indicating that it was severing all diplomatic and economic ties with Iran, providing Iranian officials with 48 hours to leave the country. The statement did not make any mention of the arms shipment.

The shipment is alleged to have violated a 2007 UN Security Council resolution prohibiting Iran from transferring “any arms or related material.” This June, the council adopted additional sanctions that tightened enforcement of the penalties against Iran, calling on all countries to inspect shipments to or from Iran suspected of violating the sanctions.

Nigeria’s referral of the matter to the Security Council follows on the heels of a Nov. 12 meeting between Ajumogobia and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on the arms shipment.

During a press conference following that meeting, Ajumogobia pledged that Nigeria would report the matter to the council as required if the weapons were determined to be a breach of UN sanctions. Nigeria currently holds a rotating seat on the 15-member council.

Mottaki, however, told reporters in Afghanistan Nov. 15 that the matter was a “misunderstanding” that had been “cleared up” with Nigeria. “A private company which had sold conventional and defensive weapons to a West African country had transferred the shipment through Nigeria,” he said.

The UN sanctions bar Iranian nationals from transferring arms as well.

Nigerian authorities questioned an Iranian national in the capital of Abuja in connection with the shipment. Ajumogobia said Nov. 16 that the individual was being interrogated and that “he’s been cooperating with the security agents.”

Similar shipments have been found in the past to have violated the UN embargo on Iranian arms transfers. Last December, a report by the committee overseeing the sanctions on Iran said that three such illicit arms shipments had been reported in 2009.

In all three cases, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) was found to be responsible for transporting the shipments. The UN sanctions adopted in June require that countries and firms “exercise vigilance” when doing business with IRISL, and U.S. and EU sanctions prohibit any business with the transporter.

Talks’ Agenda, Venue Undecided

Meanwhile, the months-long effort by the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany (the “P5+1”) to renew talks with Tehran over its nuclear program continued in November, with a date of Dec. 5 agreed for those negotiations. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, who represents the P5+1, announced Nov. 12 that the six countries had accepted the December date proposed by Iran in a Nov. 9 letter.

In late November, however, the two sides continued to disagree over the location of the talks. Iran proposed meeting in Istanbul, but U.S. and European officials maintained that the meeting should occur in Geneva or Vienna, where similar talks among the seven countries have been held previously.

“Istanbul could still be a location for a second or follow-on meeting, but the general consensus is that the first meeting should be somewhere in central Europe,” Department of State spokesman P.J. Crowley told a Nov. 12 press briefing.

Iran previously had proposed that Turkey, as well as Brazil, join the talks, a prospect that Western countries rejected. Brazil, Iran, and Turkey agreed in May on a plan to swap Iranian low-enriched uranium (LEU) for fuel for a research reactor. (See ACT, June 2010.) That plan revived a similar U.S. proposal; there was a tentative agreement on it last October, but Iran ultimately backed away from it.

The United States and its allies now insist that the October arrangement must be altered to account for the larger amount of LEU that Iran has stockpiled since that time, which the West fears could be further enriched to weapons-grade levels if Iran chose to do so.

Iran’s LEU remains under International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring.

The Western countries also have maintained that the discussions with Iran must address broader concerns raised by its nuclear program, in particular its uranium-enrichment activities, which the Security Council has demanded that Iran suspend. (See ACT, October 2010.) Tehran, however, has suggested that its nuclear program is not up for discussion.

The semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as stating Nov. 9 that the talks “will not be about Iran’s nuclear issue at all.”

However, Mottaki suggested the following day that the agenda of the meeting is still up for discussion. “The agenda is usually set before the meeting, but sometimes the involved parties agree to discuss the desired agenda during the session,” he told a news conference in Tehran Nov. 10.

 

Posted: December 5, 2010