UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- A UN committee has accused Iran of violating a UN ban on importing or exporting arms by trying to ship weapons-related material in a vessel that was seized by authorities in Cyprus.
Some diplomats believe the material may have been bound for Lebanon or Gaza.
Japan's UN Ambassador Yukio Takasu, chairman of the Iran sanctions committee, told the UN Security Council the shipment of conventional weaponry constituted a "violation" of Security Council Resolution 1737, passed in 2006 to put pressure on Iran to suspend its nuclear-enrichment program.
In a letter to Iran, a draft of which was obtained by Reuters, Takasu said the Cyprus-flagged "MV Monchegorsk," chartered by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line, was carrying banned items, including bullet shells, high-explosive gun charges, items related to 125 mm armor-piercing guns and high explosive antitank propellant.
It said the ship's documents indicated the material was headed for Syria, though council diplomats say its final destination remains unclear.
Several diplomats have said it might have been headed for Lebanon, though others suspect it was intended for the Palestinian enclave of the Gaza Strip.
Takasu's letter, sent to Iran on March 9, asked Tehran to provide any additional relevant information within 10 working days. A similar request was sent to Syria.
Iran's Foreign Ministry has rejected allegations that the shipment had anything to do with weapons. An Iranian UN mission statement did not mention the seized ship, but dismissed Western allegations that it is pursuing nuclear weapons as "entirely groundless."
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice urged the committee to act to ensure that Iran complies with the arms embargo spelled out in three sanctions resolutions against Tehran for refusing to suspend its nuclear enrichment program.
"In light of Iran's continued failure to comply with its obligations, the Iran sanctions committee should redouble its efforts to ensure full and robust implementation of Security Council Resolutions 1737, 1747, and 1803," she said, without mentioning specific steps.
UN diplomats say that since Iran is already under sanctions, the most the committee could do now was try to embarrass Tehran as much as possible.
Washington and its European allies suspect Iran is developing nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program. Tehran says its program is peaceful, but refuses to suspend nuclear enrichment that could produce bomb fuel.
Rice reiterated that U.S. President Barack Obama was prepared for "principled engagement" with Iran, but Tehran had to live up to its responsibilities.
French Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert called the Iranian shipment a "gross violation" of the sanctions. His British counterpart John Sawers echoed this, saying he was waiting to hear why Iran shipped the material and what Syria's role was.