Cyprus looks to UN for next move on suspected arms ship
By Anna Hassapi
Tue, 03 Feb 2009 21:26 UTC
Cyprus has sent a written request to the Sanctions Committee of the
UN Security Council, for advice on handling the cargo of the Russian-
owned ship docked off the Limassol coastline since last week. The
vessel is suspected to be carrying arms and munitions from Iran.
Due to the committee's requirement for unanimous voting - and
Russia's veto power - it is feared that the issue will lead to
deadlock, passing the ball back to the Cypriot court for a decision.
"We are carefully handling the situation, based on international
conventions and agreements - and not based on what a third country
possibly wants," said Stefanos Stefanou, state spokesman, referring
to the reported pressure on Cyprus by the US and Israel to confiscate
State broadcaster CyBC yesterday said that Israeli Defence Minister
Ehud Barak was in constant contact with his US counterparts over the
affair, adding that Israel now believed the arms were heading for
Stefanou declined to comment on reports that Israeli Foreign Minister
Tzipi Livni made a telephone call to her Cypriot counterpart Markos
Kyprianou, asking that the Cypriot government confiscate the vessel's
cargo, which Israel believes includes rockets, missiles, and
munitions for Russian T-72 tanks.
The US and Israel also suspect that the vessel's cargo would supply
Hamas and Hezbollah, although Israel reportedly admitted that this
suspicion has not been confirmed yet. Meanwhile, Russia insists that
Syria was the cargo's intended recipient and that nothing illegal has
"The weapons found so far on board were apparently not intended for
Hamas, but for the Syrian army. However, there are still 30 to 40
containers to be checked. From our perspective the question is
whether they contain other things intended for Hezbollah or Hamas,"
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak was quoted as saying in Haaretz.
President Demetris Christofias yesterday expressed his wish that the
matter will soon be concluded
"Things are evolving and when we have something to say on the matter,
we will say it," President Demetris Christofias said last night
"It is possible that it may come to a close tonight but it may not.
We shall have a final conclusion of the matter within the next few
days," the President explained.
Political party leaders yesterday expressed their support to the
government's stance of referring the matter to the UN, instead of
taking a unilateral decision based on third country prescriptions.
"Israel is asking what it is asking. The matter is complicated and
multi-dimensional. It is not as simple as it looks," said DIKO
President Marios Garoyian.
"The government is handling the matter in a delicate way so as not to
affect Cyprus' interests. The state should take the UN's opinion, see
whether there is a breach of Security Council Decisions and then
decide on further handling. The US cannot act as a global policeman,
violating international law," said AKEL General Secretary Andros
Referring the matter to the Sanctions Committee, however, is not
expected to produce quick results.
The 15-member committee, comprising both permanent and revolving
members of the Security Council, must vote on the issue unanimously,
before any decision is made.
In cases where unanimity is not achieved, the committee's president
can set up consultations between involved countries (in this case
Russia, the US and Cyprus) until agreement is reached.
The current Chairman of the Committee is Japanese Ambassador Yukio
Takasu, and the two Vice-Chairs for 2009 are Burkina Faso and Costa
Rica. Upon receiving Cyprus' notification regarding the suspect
vessel, Takasu will call a committee meeting within a maximum of five
If an agreement is not reached, the matter will then be referred to
the Security Council, where permanent members have veto power. As
both Russia and the US are permanent members, there is a possibility
that a decision may not be reached.
In this case, Cyprus will bear the onus of deciding whether
Monchegorsk's cargo should be confiscated, or whether the ship should
be allowed to continue its journey.
The Iran Sanctions Committee was formed to oversee the implementation
of three related resolutions against Iran: 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007)
and 1803 (2008).
The resolutions provide for a nuclear and ballistic missile
programmes-related embargo, an export ban on arms and related
material from Iran, as well as individual sanctions including, a
travel ban, a travel notification requirement, and an assets freeze
on designated persons and entities.
In reference to searching suspect vessels, resolution 1803 calls
members to inspect at airports and ports the cargoes to and from Iran
of aircraft and vessels owned and operated by two specific Iranian
companies. Cyprus has signed and adopted all three resolutions.
Under the Papadopoulos administration, Cyprus also signed an
agreement with the US, which allows the US Navy to search any vessel
under the Cypriot flag, at any location in the world, if there is
suspicion that it is carrying illegal cargo.
The non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction agreement was
signed in 2005 by then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and
then Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iacovou.
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