Iran's foreign minister said Monday that the issue of an alleged Iranian arms shipment intercepted in Nigeria was a "misunderstanding" that has been settled.
Nigeria says the artillery rockets and other weapons, found at a Lagos port last month in shipping containers labeled as building supplies, originated in Iran and may have been destined for Nigerian politicians intending violence if they lose in upcoming elections. Nigeria said last week it would take action against Iran if an investigation shows it violated international law and UN sanctions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that an Iranian implicated in the case has explained the situation to Nigerian authorities. "I think the misunderstandings have been settled in this field," Mottaki said, according to the state news agency IRNA.
"Some enemies of Iran and Nigeria claimed that the weapon shipment founded in Nigeria was linked to Iran. But it became clear to Nigerian officials that it had had nothing to do with Iran," said Iran's top diplomat said.
Mottaki, who visited Lagos last week, also said that he had replaced Iran's ambassador to Nigeria. Mottaki did not say whether the replacement was connected to the weapons case.
Mottaki did not elaborate on the nature of the misunderstanding or how it was resolved. His statement was the highest-level Iranian comment so far on the case. In late October, Iran's then-ambassador to Nigeria, Hussein Abdullahi, said there was no clear evidence linking his country to the shipment.
There was no immediate reaction from Nigerian officials to Mottaki's claim the case had been resolved.
An international shipping company based in France CMA CGM said it had picked up the containers in which the weapons were hidden in the southern Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. The shipment stopped in Mumbai, India, before heading to Lagos. On Friday, Nigerian Foreign Minister Odein Ajumogobi said Iranian officials confirmed the consignment originated in Iran.
During his visit, Mottaki cleared the way for Nigerian security officials to interview one of two Iranians who Nigeria says organized the shipment, Ajumogobia said. The Nigerians say the two have taken refuge in the Iranian Embassy.
The interception of the weapons had drawn sharp criticism of Iran from Nigeria. In a 2007 resolution stepping up sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, the UN Security Council banned Iranian arms exports, forbidding the sale or supply of weapons by Iran, whether directly or indirectly. It requires nations to prevent any such transfers and prevent their citizens from obtaining any weapons from Iran.
But Mottaki on Monday depicted the tensions as eased. He said he and the Nigerian foreign minister had held talks on bilateral relations and that Ajumogobia would visit Tehran. Mottaki said the appointment of a new ambassador to Nigeria would "create new opportunities for cooperation between the two countries."
Meanwhile, the international friendly soccer match between Iran and Nigeria was cancelled, according to Iran’s football federation (IFF). The match was scheduled to take place at Tehran’s Azadi Stadium on Wednesday but IFF officials announced the African team called the friendly off.
“The Nigerian football federation secretary general Musa Amadu sent us a letter in which he stated their key players cannot accompany the team. Amadu suggested playing two friendlies in 2011,” said Abbas Torabian, director of the International Committee of Iran Football Federation.
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