U.N. panel voices concern over Iran's apparent violations of arms-export embargo

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 11, 2009

UNITED NATIONS -- A U.N. sanctions committee expressed "grave concern" Thursday about what it called apparent Iranian violations of a U.N. ban on arms exports, triggering a renewed threat by the United States and its European allies to press for broader sanctions against Tehran if it does not mend its ways.

The Security Council committee, chaired by Japan, cited numerous reports of illegal shipments by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines over the past three months, including two Iranian arms shipments seized by Malta and Israel. The United States and Israel say the weapons were bound for Syria.

"Iran has now been caught breaking the rules," said Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. "Such violations are unacceptable."

Rice added: "The illicit smuggling of weapons from Iran to Syria is not just a sanctions violation. It is also an important factor in the destabilization of an already fragile Middle East."

The committee's findings come as a U.S.-backed effort to engage Iran in negotiations over its nuclear program has stalled. The Security Council's five permanent members -- the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain -- plus Germany are preparing to meet, probably on Dec. 18, to consider new sanctions.

France's U.N. ambassador, GĂ©rard Araud, said his government will introduce a sanctions resolution "as soon as possible" if Tehran fails to take up an offer to send its nuclear fuel abroad for enrichment. "We are now convinced that there is a deliberate attempt by the Islamic Republic of Iran to violate the U.N. resolutions," he said.

U.N. diplomats say they expect a protracted negotiation over the severity of possible measures against Iran. The United States, France and Britain want to disrupt Iran's financial dealings by targeting banks and reinsurance companies that do business with Iran, while China and Russia have been reluctant to impose sanctions on any part of the Iranian economy that is not directly involved in arms sales or the nuclear or ballistic-missile trade.

One Security Council ambassador said Russia has hardened its stance on Iran. But China, which has been developing its commercial ties with Iran, has made clear it will not support measures that threaten those interests, the envoy said.

The chairman of the sanctions panel, Yukio Takasu of Japan, cited "multiple reports" of Iranian violations of a March 2007 U.N. arms-export embargo. He singled out the October seizure by Malta, acting on a U.S. request, of the German-flagged Hansa India. The following month, the Israeli navy intercepted the Francop, sailing under the flag of Antigua, near Cyprus. Both ships contained arms, Rice said.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company