Quick quiz. What do the following items all have in common?
Bags of cement, crates of marble, polyethylene pellets, lentils, cotton and powdered milk.
Answer: All these items, in recent years, have been used by Iran to conceal illicit weapons cargoes, shipped in alleged violation of United Nations sanctions.
The source for this information is a confidential 14-page report produced by the United Nations Panel of Experts on Iran sanctions, and obtained this Friday by Reuters — whose Louis Charbonneau has written a story disclosing some of its contents, under the headline “Exclusive — U.N. experts trace recent seized arms to Iran, violating embargo.”
The particular Iranian duplicity on which this UN report focuses is the shipment earlier this year of weapons hidden among bags of cement aboard a Panamanian-flagged ship, the Klos C. The weapons — including rockets, fuses, 120 mm mortar shells and roughly 400,000 bullets — were loaded onto the Klos C in an Iranian port. The Klos C then called at the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, before heading to the Red Sea, where the ship, making for Sudan, was intercepted by Israeli naval forces.
According to Reuters, the UN panel’s confidential report confirms that the weapons hidden aboard the Klos C were shipped from Iran, in violation of UN sanctions. (Apparently the report does not speculate on the ultimate destination for the weapons — which the Israelis said was Gaza. Nor could the UN experts confirm the Israeli account that the weapons were smuggled into Iran from Syria, before being loaded aboard the Klos C. Perhaps Israeli authorities have better intelligence on Syria, Iran and Gaza than do the eight experts on the UN panel? But the UN report does confirm that the weapons were shipped from Iran).
Sanctions-violating arms consignments from Iran are quite bad enough. But what makes the Klos C shipment particularly interesting is the timing. That shipment, seized by the Israelis on March 5, was already on its way from Iran as the U.S. and its partners held the first round of Iran nuclear talks Feb. 18-20 in Vienna. Following the Israeli seizure of the ship, Iran’s foreign minister and chief nuclear negotiator, Javad Zarif, repeatedly ridiculed Israeli accounts that the Klos C had been carrying weapons from Iran, suggesting the Israelis were telling, as Zarif put it, “same failed lies.”
The UN report in effect confirms that Zarif — Iran’s main man at the Vienna nuclear talks — was lying. As I wrote in a March 7 article on “The Amazing Coincidences of Javad Zarif,” just after the news broke about the Israeli interception of the Klos C, its hold stuffed with weapons hidden under bags of cement: “If Zarif knew anything about this, that’s damning. If he was clueless, that’s alarming. Which is it?”
In public, at least, U.S diplomats have given Zarif a pass on his lies about the arms bound for Sudan aboard the Klos C. There has been no demand that Zarif account for his own swaggering mendacity. That, right there, is a major concession to Iran — a signal that lies, however brazen, will be tolerated. That ought to be a matter of profound alarm — perhaps not to our diplomats, but at least to the American public — as the parties to the Iran nuclear talks prepare for a marathon bargaining finale in Vienna, starting next Wednesday, July 2, with the professed aim of reaching a final nuclear deal by the deadline of July 20. What lies from Tehran are in the offing, concealed under stacks of diplomatic drafting paper, official pronouncements and that grin with which Zarif likes to survey U.S. envoy Wendy Sherman and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, at the bargaining table?