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Iranian Arms Smuggling Cases Called Tip of ‘Iceberg’

The recent seizure of two shipments of Iranian arms and explosives, while representing a fraction of such banned cargo, shows the effectiveness of United Nations sanctions against the Islamic Republic, a French envoy said.

“This is only the tip of the iceberg,” Martin Briens, France’s deputy ambassador to the UN told the Security Council today. “There is a considerable flow of arms and other dangerous materials that once again has come to light. It shows sanctions do have an impact.”

Briens was referring to Nigeria’s seizure in October of a shipment of Iranian rockets, grenades and mortars, and Italy’s interception in September of several tons of what were described in the Security Council as “high potential explosives.”

Japan’s Ambassador Tsuneo Nishida, chairman of the Security Council committee to monitor enforcement of sanctions against Iran, said the explosives hidden in a container labeled as powdered milk were destined for Syria. The Haaretz newspaper, citing an unidentified Israeli official, said the arms seized by Nigeria were going to the Gaza Strip.

“There are new worrying routes that have been identified in Africa,” Briens said. “This shows the magnitude and diversity of Iranian practices seeking to evade sanctions. Iran has to make use of increasingly complex and complicated routes and schemes.”

The Security Council has adopted four sets of sanctions intended to block Iran’s suspected development of nuclear weapons. The measures, which demand that Iran halt uranium enrichment, also bar exports of arms and explosives and urge all nations to intercept Iranian cargo suspected of containing banned materials.

Urging Investigation

U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice commended Nigeria and Italy for intercepting the arms and urged further inquiry.

“Investigations into these incidents can help us better understand and to halt Iran’s arms smuggling and proliferation networks in violation of this council’s resolutions,” Rice said.

In Washington, Gary Samore, the White House coordinator for arms control, said the U.S. might soon impose tougher sanctions on Iran for continued violations of Security Council resolutions.

“I think it would be an important message to send to take additional measures in the near future,” Samore said at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Toll of Sanctions

Samore concurred with Briens that existing sanctions are taking a toll on Iran’s nuclear program and economy.

“Restricted access to supplies of specialized raw materials and finished components has contributed to technical problems in Iran’s enrichment program, limiting the number and reliability of centrifuges it is able to build and complicating Iran’s efforts to develop more advanced centrifuge machines,” Samore said.

The sanctions also have “caused real economic dislocations inside Iran, especially in the financial and energy development sectors,” he said. “Iran is effectively unable to access financial services from reputable banks all around the world and is increasingly unable to conduct transactions in dollars, the pound or the euro. International companies, including in the energy sector, are increasingly recognizing the risks of doing business with Iran.”

The Security Council meeting followed two days of talks in Geneva on the nuclear issue between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group -- comprising China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and U.S.

Talks to Continue

While Iran said it would “absolutely not” suspend uranium enrichment, the Islamic state agreed to more talks on its nuclear program, marking the first time in a more than a year that diplomatic options for the dispute are being kept alive.

Iran, whose UN mission didn’t respond to a request for a comment on today’s Security Council meeting, says it’s producing enriched uranium to fuel atomic reactors.

“Let me reiterate my government’s commitment to a dual-track strategy of both pressure and engagement to convince Iran’s leadership to change course,” Rice said. “We aim to continue the careful, phased process of building confidence between Iran and the international community.”

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