Uruguay caught buying Iran arms

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SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia — Uruguayan parliamentary investigators said they blocked an attempt by their government to purchase arms from Iran, using a diversion through Venezuela to try to evade U.N. sanctions on the Tehran government.

Some 15,000 rounds of Iranian-made 5.56 mm ammunition were loaded onto a Uruguayan navy ship in Venezuela before the attempt was discovered, said Javier Garcia of Uruguay’s opposition National Party in an interview. Uruguay’s military chiefs deny they ordered the munitions.

The shipment, part of a larger deal involving the sale of 18,000 Iranian-made automatic rifles, would be in clear violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution No. 1747, passed March 24 in an effort to curb that country”s uranium enrichment program.

That resolution says Iran “shall not supply, sell or transfer any arms or related materiel, and that all states shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals.”

“The Iran-Venezuela-Uruguay triangulation of these munitions had the objective of allowing Iran” to make a sale to Uruguay in spite of the sanctions, Mr. Garcia said.

The sanctions have not deterred Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez from entering into military projects with Iran, including the joint production of unmanned aircraft similar to the U.S. Predator.

Venezuela has recently engaged in a major arms buildup, buying $3.5 billion in Russian armaments, including 110,000 AK-103 rifles, 24 Sukhoi Su-30 fighters and more than 50 combat helicopters.

Mr. Chavez openly supports Iran’s nuclear ambitions and used his leverage with leftist allies in Latin America to promote visits by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

In his most recent visit to Venezuela last month, Mr. Ahmadinejad announced the creation of a $2 billion “strategic” fund between Iran and Venezuela to help local governments “liberate themselves from imperialism.”

Although Uruguayan President Tabare Vazquez is considered a center-left moderate, his government includes elements of the Tupamaros Liberation Front who support Mr. Chavez’s brand of radical socialism. During a meeting with Mr. Vazquez in August, Mr. Chavez offered to supply oil to Uruguay on favorable terms.

According to the Uruguayan parliamentary investigators, Iranian arms exporter Moldex planned to sell 18,000 HK2002 rifles, described as lighter versions of the Russian Kalashnikov, through the Venezuelan military contractor Compania Anonima Venezolana de Industrias Militares, or CAVIM.

However, Mr. Garcia said, the arms were ultimately destined for Uruguay’s army and navy. He said that the munitions picked up in Venezuela were supposed to serve as “practice rounds.”

Uruguayan defense officials dismissed the incident as the result of “confusion,” admitting only to having considered an Iranian bid for weapons before the U.N. sanctions came into effect.

But investigators said Mr. Vazquez sent a note to the Uruguayan congress authorizing the navy ship Artigas to pick up a “cargo” in Venezuela on July 9 — more than three months after the U.N. resolution.

Top CAVIM executives and Venezuelan generals approached Uruguay’s ambassador in Caracas, Geronimo Cardozo, to arrange the transfer of the munitions to Uruguay, according to regional press reports.

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