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Iran Wanted Seized Weapons Back - Testimony

iran sanctionsWeapons seized from the Monchegorsk ship en route to Syria in 2009 were worth 15 million euros and Iran wanted them back, said Leonidas Pantelides, head of President Christofias' diplomatic service.

During testimony to a committee investigating political responsibility for the explosion caused by these weapons on July 11th, Pantelides said the Iranians put in a formal request for the return of the cargo. President Christofias also met with Iranian premier Ahmadjinedad on the sidelines of a conference in New York and the issue was discussed, said Pantelides.

Investigator Polys Polyviou pointed out that it was a mistake to encourage Iran and Russia to believe that the issue was negotiable and that that door should have been firmly closed. Cyprus confiscated them on the grounds that Iran and Syria were breaching UN sanctions on weapons trading.

"I do not close the door to anyone. We would have acted differently if the Security Council had authorised us," replied Pantelides.

But Polyviou challenged that, saying that the Security Council had decided on the destruction of the cargo on February 6th, 2009, a position backed by the EU. Polyviou posed the question: "why didn't you tell them we are a member of the EU - full stop?"

Pantelides answered:"Why full stop? There was a request."

Polyviou told Pantelides that he should have been the president's closest advisor and should have told him of a meeting held in February 2011, during which the risks of the containers exploding were highlighted and during which there was a disagreement between Kyprianou and Papacostas.

"I cannot answer you. I do not know what to say. They took an interim decision to inform one another. I went there with an idea and they undermined my suggestion. They told me that my idea was silly and the first person to behave to me that way was the foreign minister."

Pantelides went on to say that he did all he could to do his job, but that former Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou saw him as a rival. Implying that his ability to do his job was hampered by this rivalry, he also said that Kyprianou had an ongoing rivalry with former Defence Minister Costas Papacostas.

Pantelides said that as far as he could remember, he never informed the president of the risks of the cargo exploding. In his testimony, President Christofias said that he was last informed on the issue in September 2010.

"The only thing I would have told him, they prohibited me from saying," said Pantelides, blaming the foreign minister for preventing him from updating the president; "what would I have told him? Would I have told him about the meeting and they would have told me that this wasn't my job?"

Polyviou pointed out that the meeting was very important and a golden opportunity to clear the matter up and take final decisions. But mysteriously, no information was sent to the president about this crucial meeting. The investigator said that normally, memos and notes were diligently sent to the president but apparently that all stopped on September 6th, 2010.

Pantelides said that it was up to the ministers to inform the president.

At times, Polyviou took an openly skeptical tone with Pantelides, who refused to answer some questions on the basis they were too general. In one case, he even demanded that Polyviou keep his questions clear. It's obvious what triggered Polyviou's skepticism - in a manner that could have inspired Franz Kafka to write The Trial II, Pantelides obfusticated, offering dead ends and evading direct answers wherever he could.

Note: story based on translation of a transcript published on Sigmalive.com

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