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 Monchegorsk's cargo.
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 Syria.
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 taken place.
"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 Kyprianou.
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 days.
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.