The United Arab Emirates has seized a ship secretly carrying embargoed North Korean arms to Iran, say diplomats.

News of the interception comes at a sensitive time. North Korea has invited the US for bilateral talks on nuclear issues and the UN Security Council’s western members are pressing for greater Iranian co-operation over its nuclear programme.

The UAE reported the seizure to the UN sanctions committee responsible for vetting the implementation of measures, including an arms embargo, imposed against North Korea under Security Council resolution 1874, according to diplomats in New York. The committee, chaired by Turkey, has made no formal announcement about the case.

A UN diplomat whose country is represented on the sanctions committee said the UAE reported the ship was carrying 10 containers of weapons and related items, including rocket-propelled grenades and ammunition. He said the consignment had been ordered by Iran’s TSS, a company said to be linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and previously subject to international bans on importing weapons-related items.

The vessel, identified by diplomats as the Bahamian-flagged ANL-Australia, has been allowed to leave the UAE after being seized some weeks ago. Diplomats said it was the UAE’s responsibility to dispose of the cargo of weapons found on board. The UN sanctions committee has written to the Iranian and North Korean governments pointing out that the shipment puts them in violation of UN resolution 1874.

The seizure took place in the UAE, but not the shipping hub of Dubai, the person added, without elaborating.

The UN resolution, adopted following North Korea’s second nuclear test in May, extended an existing ban on the transfer of heavy weapons and nuclear and missile-related technology to cover all arms exports by Pyongyang.

The binding resolution authorises states to seize and dispose of items that break the embargo. The
resolution also requires states to report to the committee on what action they are taking to implement sanctions.

The UAE is a hub for goods moving in and out of Iran. Western powers have pressed for greater co-operation from UAE authorities to track shipments and monitor Iranian finances. They have also closed some companies that have been involved in allegedly exporting dual-use materials that could be used for nuclear technology or explosive devices found in Afghanistan and Iraq.

While most focus is on dual-use technology, diplomats said the clampdown on public dissent after Iran’s contested elections had also raised concerns about supplies of arms to state-linked militias.

The UAE, a US ally, is also worried about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

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