Sunday, 17 July 2011

Wikileaks: Mari disaster brought about by Christofias’ incompetence and flawed political calculations

Below are edited extracts from the various Wikileaks documents ascribed to the US Embassy in Nicosia that reveal, from the US point of view, the handling by the Christofias’ government of the Monchegorsk issue, i.e. the shipment on the eponymous Cypriot-flagged vessel of Iranian arms to Syria and, possibly, to Hamas, which, in 2009, led to the cache being confiscated by Cypriot authorities and stored at the Mari naval base, where they blew up last Monday, killing 13 firefighters and National Guardsmen. The American account is damning, portraying an incompetent and trepidatious Cypriot government approach, compounded by the president’s own ideological inclinations, which made him unwilling to offend Russia, Syria and Iran and put at risk the interests of Cyprus and the safety of its people. In fact, what seems to have happened is that Christofias, by making the weapons the responsibility of the National Guard, thought he was cleverly balancing all the competing demands being made on Cyprus by various international actors; the flaws in his plan being that Cyprus and its armed forces were not in a position to safely look after such a large haul of weapons and that storing them at Mari was only a temporary solution and that sooner rather than later the president would have to overcome his dithering and make a final decision on what to do with the Iranian cache.

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Date: 1/22/2009:
-- The Cypriot-flagged vessel M/V MONCHEGORSK is carrying Iranian-origin military-related cargo to Syria.

-- A boarding team from a U.S. Navy vessel was granted permission by the ship's master to inspect M/V MONCHEGORSK on 19 and 20 January 2009.

-- The inspection revealed containers carrying 120 mm, 122 mm, 125 mm, and 160 mm high explosives that originated in Iran and are destined for Syria.  Inspection also revealed 7.62 mm shell casings, compressed gunpowder, silver dollar-sized slugs, primer, and magnesium primers.  M/V MONCHEGORSK will likely arrive at the Suez Canal on 23-24 January 2009.

-- UN Security Council Resolution 1747, paragraph 5, prohibits Iran from supplying, selling or transferring any arms or related materiel.  It also requires all states to prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not such transfers originated in the territory of Iran.

-- As such, we [the US government] request your [Cyprus government’s) assistance in preventing the transfer of goods in violation of UNSCR 1747.

-- In particular, we request that, as the M/V MONCHEGORSK's flag state, the Republic of Cyprus divert the vessel to a Cypriot port and detain the cargo.

-- We are willing to discuss with you options for the disposition of this cargo, as well as support your efforts to identify the cargo.

Date: 1/27/2009: It is becoming evident that the Republic of Cyprus, likely fearing Cyprus Problem-related "reprisals" from Damascus, hopes to avoid having to interdict and/or divert to an RoC port the M/V Monchegorsk…  Presidential Diplomatic Coordinator Leonidas Pantelides informed the Ambassador on January 27 that Cyprus had requested the ship's owner to radio the master to divert to Limassol, but as yet had received no response.  "This is all that we can do," Pantelides insisted.

In last 24 hours, the Embassy has engaged chief Palace diplomat Pantelides (three times), Presidential Commissioner/chief Cyprus Problem negotiator George Iacovou, and MFA Permanent Secretary Nicolas Emiliou …(these calls were in addition to the direct demarche the ambassador had made to RoC President Demetris Christofias on January 23).  Pantelides confirmed that a recall of the Monchegorsk to Limassol had been issued, but no response had yet been received… The Ambassador emphasized the obligations of Cyprus as the flag state to take action, and noted Washington's highest-possible-level interest.

In a follow-up telcon, Pantelides stated his government had "done what it needed to do" in alerting the Monchegorsk's owner… The Ambassador asked whether Cyprus could use the assistance of the United States in contacting the ship directly to make Cyprus's instructions known to the captain, or otherwise provide additional help.  Pantelides deflected both questions, making clear the RoC did not want the U.S. involved.  "The Monchegorsk is already half-way there," he ended, somewhat cryptically.

Why the Cold Feet?
Greek Cypriots learn Security Council resolutions like others learn their ABCs -- early and by heart.  No country pays more lip service to their status at the top of the international pyramid.  Why, then, the seeming disregard for RoC obligations under 1747 and 1803?  Contacts ranging from President Christofias to worker bees at the MFA informed us that Cyprus's 2006 decision to interdict the M/V Gregorio, a vessel carrying missile radar equipment from North Korea to Syria, had caused grave damage to its bilateral relations with Damascus. The Syrians had responded by green-lighting regular ferry service between Latakeia and the "occupied" port of Famagusta in the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus."  Highest-level RoC entreaties have failed to compel Damascus to end the sea link, one of the few clear diplomatic blows the Cypriots have taken recently.  They worry that further government action against the Monchegorsk might provoke Damascus to take further steps to "upgrade" the "TRNC."

Date: 1/28/2009: Ship status:  U.S. Navy sources report that the M/V Monchegorsk is holding position some 60 nautical miles southeast of Larnaca.

Following EUR Assistant Secretary Daniel Fried's telephone call to RoC Presidential Commissioner George Iacovou, RoC Diplomatic Coordinator Leonidas Pantelides telephoned the Ambassador January 27 to inform that the Monchegorsk was no longer steaming toward Latakeia, Syria, but rather was loitering 60 miles from Larnaca, awaiting further instructions.

January 28, the Ambassador telephoned Pantelides for an update, learning that the vessel had not moved overnight.  The parties to the incident "were speaking through their lawyers," the RoC diplomat noted, attempting to determine their next steps.  Further, he had been informed that the ship had been told to be prepared to proceed to port (Note:  we have transcribed Pantelides's fuzzy, passive voiced language verbatim.)  The Ambassador asked Pantelides which port in Cyprus would receive the Monchegorsk; he replied that it had not yet been decided.

The Ambassador repeated earlier offers of U.S. assistance in the matter and urged Pantelides to request an independent cargo inspection conducted by Cypriot military and/or security officials, once the vessel reaches port.

Date: 1/29/2009: There is continued concern at the highest levels of the USG about the cargo of the M/V Monchegorsk.

--Following the U.S. Naval personnel boarding of the M/V Monchegorsk on January 19 and 20, the USG believes the transfer of cargo on board may be a violation of UNSCR 1747.

--Given our knowledge of this transshipment, we may need to raise this issue at the UN Security Council.

--We would like to fully coordinate any actions taken by our Mission in NY with your government.

--We would especially like to be able to refer to the positive actions taken by Cyprus to ensure this ship was not allowed to violate the terms of UNSCR 1747.

--In particular, we would again strongly urge the ROC to be as assertive as possible in instructing the Monchegorsk to dock in Cyprus, so a thorough inspection of the cargo can take place.

-- However, if the ship arrives in Syria, without the ROC's best efforts to support the relevant UNSCRs, the USG would not be able to portray the ROC's actions in the most positive light. As UNSCR 1747 makes clear in para 5, "States shall prohibit the procurement of such items from Iran by their nationals, or using their flag vessels or aircraft, and whether or not originating in the territory of Iran.

--The USG remains willing to assist in any way possible.

Date: 1/29/2009: Ship's Location and Status: USS Barry reported that the M/V Monchegorsk entered Cypriot territorial waters at 0315 Zulu on January 29.  Roughly four hours later, it arrived at the port of Limassol, where it remains at anchorage.

Pantelides confirmed that the Monchegorsk was at anchor in Limassol, but would provide little specific on Cyprus's planned course of action. Early reports from RoC maritime officials had corroborated the existence of large quantities of high explosives on board, a fact, Pantelides noted, that troubled the Cypriots on safety grounds.  He confirmed his government would undertake a more thorough inspection, but deflected the offer of U.S. assistance, claiming the RoC wanted to go "step by step" before committing to off-load any cargo.

Date: 1/29/2009: Ship Status:  M/V Monchegorsk remains at anchorage in the Limassol port. Cypriot maritime officials have conducted a cursory inspection, finding large quantities of high explosive on board.  RoC officials promise a more thorough inspection is forthcoming.

The Ambassador telephoned Presidential Diplomatic Coordinator Leonidas Pantelides seeking the latest on the M/V Monchegorsk recall. Pantelides responded that Cypriot officials were inspecting the ship now and "would find what you found."  He was unsure what the government would do once it discovered military materiel, however. Pantelides made clear the RoC understood it could not let the ship reach Syria.  Yet it also aimed to prevent Iranian/Syrian goods being stuck on its territory.

Brainstorming, the RoC diplomat floated the possibility of transferring the cargo to the United Nations in some creative way.  UNFICYP likely was out, owing to its restrictive mandate; also, transfer to UNFICYP likely would require bringing the materiel on land, which the government hoped to avoid.  But might UNIFIL be a possibility? Pantelides ventured.  That UN mission runs its sea operations out of Limassol.  He questioned whether the Monchegorsk's haul could be transferred to a German ship operating under the UN flag, and taken out of Cyprus.

Comment:  The RoC is clearly feeling the heat and wants to avoid a confrontation with Syria and Iran. Pantelides worries, with reason, that the Monchegorsk incident will break soon into the contentious Cypriot press, and he is looking for a way out before it becomes an embarrassment to the government.  From their perspective, some sort of UN cover would make "doing the right thing" easier and more palatable, since the very hardest political pill for the RoC to swallow would be off-loading the cargo on land while its final disposition is decided.

Date: 1/30/2009: MFA Permanent Secretary (D-equivalent) Nicolas Emiliou summoned the Ambassador for discussions on the M/V Monchegorsk; owing to a prior commitment, PolChief attended in his place.

Cypriot maritime officials had conducted a cursory check of the Monchegorsk and discovered significant quantities of high explosives that were clearly military in nature, Emiliou informed.  They would perform more detailed checks shortly, having identified 55 suspicious crates (Note: likely those already inspected by U.S. personnel.)  Should the RoC's attorneys determine the cargo was subject to UNSC sanctions, the overarching Cypriot desire was to remove it soonest from the island, owing to "heavy pressure" from Damascus and Teheran.  Cyprus would require assistance from friendly nations in disposing of the materiel, Emiliou concluded.

Ambassador called on UK High Commissioner Peter Millet.  Millet informed that 18 hours earlier, he had received confusing instructions from a CENTCOM-based UK officer to intervene with the RoC on the Monchegorsk. He had sat on the instructions, however, in order to get more clarity and to consult with us. In response to USG brainstorming over the possibility of using the Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) in the disposition of the cargo, Millet noted some practical difficulties, but assured the SBAs could accept the cargo "both physically and politically."  London wanted this shipment interdicted as much as Washington, he assured, and he personally stood ready to approach the Cypriots on the matter.

Ambassador contacted Presidency Diplomatic Coordinator Leonidas Pantelides He restated U.S. appreciation for Cyprus recalling the ship, and assured that Washington was thinking creatively about an end state that both allowed the RoC to meet its UNSC obligations while also respecting Cypriot domestic political and foreign policy sensitivities.  Ambassador explained that USG experts so far had found no mechanism for affecting a handover of the Monchegorsk's cargo to elements of UNIFIL, an idea that Pantelides had floated a day earlier.  Would Cyprus accept some type of transfer to a third party, such as the Brits via the SBAs, or even the French, whose naval relationship with Cyprus was strong?

Cyprus plainly preferred a solution involving the French and UN than one using the SBAs, Pantelides responded. Yet RoC lawyers worried that any approach to a third country would be illegal under the UNSCRs -- how was Syria prohibited from receiving the cargo, for example, but not France or Britain?  Cyprus's favored tack remained one that provided UN cover to Cyprus to act.

Comment: Official Cyprus is telling us their primary interest lies in fulfilling UNSC obligations and removing the cargo from the island, preferably under UN cover.  However, RoC political realities -- mainly, the desire to keep Moscow happy at all costs and prevent Damascus from retaliating by upgrading relations or links with the "illegal Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" -- pose a countervailing demand that the vessel eventually reach Syria.

Date: 2/2/2009: French Ambassador Nicolas Galey on February 2 hosted a strategy session with his U.S., British, and German counterparts.  Galey briefed regarding his latest Monchegorsk-related communications with MFA Permanent Secretary Nicolas Emiliou and Presidential Diplomatic Coordinator Leonidas Pantelides. RoC maritime officials continued to inspect the 98 crates on board the vessel, Galey relayed, "with much to look at and little staff to do the work."  The inspectors did not have the means to check 40-plus containers without off-loading the entire cargo at pier-side (which the Cypriots continue to oppose.)

German Ambassador Gottfried Zeitz repeated an offer he earlier had made to the RoC for carte blanche assistance on the Monchegorsk matter; such aid could comprise sending technical experts from Berlin or even dispatching a vessel that could remove the cargo from Cypriot territory. Ambassadors agreed this offer provided the RoC a "way out" of its current predicament, should it choose to accept it.

Also on February 2, Polchief called on MFA Middle East Desk Officer Dionysus Dionysiou… Regarding the recent visit of the Syrian envoy to lobby for the Monchegorsk’s release Dionysiou assumed the Syrian had played hardball.  They felt they had Cyprus in a corner, emboldened by the RoC recently having broken EU consensus to support (vice abstain) a UNGA resolution on the Golan Heights.  No end-state other than an RoC decision to let the vessel proceed to Latakeia would satisfy the SARG, Dionysiou predicted.  Should that not occur, the Syrians would look to upgrade further their relations with the breakaway "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus", and lobby hard on the "TRNC's" behalf within the OIC.

Date: 2/3/2009: Ambassador spoke with RoC Diplomatic Coordinator Leonidas Pantelides regarding latest developments on Monchegorsk.  Contradicting recent messages from the Foreign Ministry regarding the applicability of UNSCR 1747, Pantelides claimed there was no doubt the Monchegorsk was carrying proscribed materiel.  That said, Cyprus needed "a blue flag (United Nations) solution," or otherwise would prefer to send the cargo back to source country Iran.  He dismissed any option that entailed transferring the shipment to a third party without UN cover, such as the German offer reported on February 2.

Ambassador also discussed next steps with resident UK High Commissioner Peter Millett.  Millett hours earlier had engaged RoC Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou to urge the Cypriots to report only their inspection findings to the ISC and specifically not seek guidance for proceeding.  However, in the face of what appeared to be a near-imminent Cypriot decision not to report and perhaps let the boat leave, Millett's message apparently softened, focusing instead on the necessity of referring the matter to New York regardless of wording.  Kyprianou claimed that "these people" -- pointing at President Demetris Christofias and fellow AKEL party glitterati -- had allowed the Monchegorsk to become an ideological, David versus Goliath affair, with "little Cyprus" naturally cozying up to Syria's David.  Such an interpretation did not bode well for a solution acceptable to the U.S., Britain, and others, the Minister concluded.

Date: 2/5/2009: The Ambassador February 5 contacted Presidential Palace Diplomatic Coordinator Leonidas Pantelides.  The United States regretted the RoC decision to send its unhelpful letter to the Iran Sanctions Committee (ISC), he began. Now that the conversations had shifted to New York, however, the critical issue on-island was to ensure the Monchegorsk did not escape RoC control.  Pantelides assured that Cyprus would not allow the ship to depart.  He repeated that the government sought UN cover for its actions and wanted to get the Monchegorsk and its cargo out of Cyprus, but only by putting it "in possession of the UN."  The RoC had been in regular contact with Moscow on the matter, and was convinced the Russians would support its tack in New York.

Pantelides called back at 1300 hrs, a touch frazzled and with a completely different message.  "We want to find a way through this mess," the Cypriot diplomat insisted, admitting the government unlikely would receive the response it had sought via its letter to the ISC.  Now Cyprus wanted to explore a third-country transfer option, which until this conversation, it had dismissed out-of-hand.

"Unofficially" and without committing his government, Pantelides asked if Malta represented an acceptable venue to receive the goods. France and Italy had been too "high profile" for a third-party transfer, he explained. Neighboring Malta, however, was tiny, and RoC President Demetris Christofias would be comfortable dealing with the Maltese.

Date: 2/6/2009: Ambassador telephoned Presidential Diplomatic Coordinator Leonidas Pantelides for further clarity on Pantelides's day-earlier suggestion that the RoC transport the M/V Monchegorsk's cargo to Malta for safe-keeping, storage, and/or eventual disposition… In response to the Ambassador's query, Pantelides revealed that Cyprus had not yet put the plan to Malta for consideration.  Later today he intended to flesh out the proposal, obtain President Demetris Christofias's support for it, and, if he received a green light, approach the Maltese directly.  The RoC did not want the U.S. to intervene with Valletta first, he stressed.  Ambassador agreed the U.S. would not contact the Maltese, but restated the U.S. offer to help with disposition of the goods, both diplomatically and technically.  As usual Pantelides demurred, but promised to brief the Ambassador after his imminent conversation with the President.

The Ambassador later briefed UK High Commissioner Peter Millett on the Pantelides call. Millett reported that the Cypriots had not raised the Malta option in earlier conversations, but he saw value in exploring the proposal. The two islands were members of the Commonwealth and European Union and shared a common (and perhaps paranoid) worldview. They worked well together, even recently signing an agreement to provide joint diplomatic and consular services from their respective missions.  Further, Millett observed, Malta likely would be receptive to EU support for this type of solution to a UN resolution violation.  It would take some effort to convince the Maltese it was in their own self-interest to take the Monchegorsk burden off Cyprus, he concluded.  That said, there were no apparent Syrian pressure points on Malta, unlike on Cyprus.

Following up the morning conversation and in response to recent EUCOM reporting that the Monchegorsk might be weighing anchor, Ambassador telephoned Pantelides at 1545 hrs. Could we expect developments over the weekend? he inquired. Pantelides guaranteed that the vessel would not depart Cypriot waters.  In another seeming about-face, he added  (Comment: it could be that pressure in New York and Brussels has left Cyprus reconsidering its formerly dead-set opposition to bringing the haul on land.) The Palace diplomat did not offer further details on the Malta arrangement nor a readout of his meeting with Christofias, however.

Ambassador also engaged French Ambassador Nicolas Galey on February 6.  Galey reported tremendous European Union pressure on Cyprus in recent days regarding the Monchegorsk matter.  Cyprus had obligations to the EU to prevent the illegal export and could not stand on the excuse that action on the Monchegorsk had moved to New York. Further, Galey reported, member states had warned Cyprus the cargo could not be returned to Iran.  Galey claimed he was recommending a joint demarche in Nicosia with the P-3 plus Czechs and Germans.  He also would recommend a joint demarche in Damascus.  The United States likely would want to participate in Nicosia, the Ambassador responded, suggesting the target be President Christofias himself. He also stated that Washington likely would provide just about anything necessary to ensure the cargo did not make it to Syria. "That takes away the Cypriot argument that they don't have the technical capacity to deal with the cargo," Galey responded.

Date: 2/9/2009: The M/V Monchegorsk moved slightly further from shore on February 7/8.  An RoC diplomatic source claimed the vessel had relocated to keep from blocking Limassol port traffic.  A maritime official cited the vessel's dangerous cargo and the need to maintain distance between the Monchegorsk and other ships.

Ambassador telephoned RoC Diplomatic Coordinator Leonidas Pantelides.  Pantelides expected a final RoC decision within two or three days.  Cyprus might still order the vessel to proceed to Malta; more likely, however, the government would decide to confiscate the cargo.

Ambassador praised the latter possible course of action.  If Cyprus were to confiscate the cargo with aims of disposing it, the USG would stand ready to lend technical assistance.  In any case, it would be critical to obtain a complete inventory before Cyprus moved to destroy the goods. Pantelides again demurred on the offer of technical assistance, but confirmed the RoC must look into every container, "so that we know what we are dealing with".

Date: 2/13/2009: Embassy officials at the Port of Limassol confirmed on February 13 the 0700 hrs local quayside arrival of the M/V Monchegorsk.  Unloading of the vessel commenced at 0800 and ended at 1030; Emboffs counted 98 containers off-loaded. Port authority contacts report that many of them will remain at quayside for an indeterminate time, as limited truck availability will make cargo transfer to the naval facility at Mari a lengthy and complex undertaking.

A mid-level Foreign Ministry contact told PolChief on February 13 that the government was pleased with recent developments on the Monchegorsk matter, as were "all major players."  Pressed to confirm that that list included Syria and Iran, the Cypriot diplomat nodded affirmatively and added, "it seems so."

Date: 4/16/2009: (Briefing to US Secretary of State on upcoming meeting with Cypriot FM, Markos Kyprianou).
Our [US] desire for a better relationship with Cyprus is firm.  Since Christofias's election in February 2008, however, we have witnessed an ideologically-motivated attempt to turn back the clock to the heydays of the Non-Aligned Movement.  He has publicly praised Fidel Castro, welcomed a new Venezuelan Embassy in Nicosia, lauded Iran, and vilified NATO and the Partnership for Peace (PfP).  Christofias's commitment to Russian President Dimitri Medvedev to promote the latter's European security proposal within the EU seems gratuitous, and his outreach to Hugo Chavez and Venezuela strikes us as an intentional move to distance his government from the United States.

Cyprus's new direction under Christofias has made final resolution of the M/V Monchegorsk incident problematic. Acting on reliable information, U.S. naval forces in January boarded the Russian-owned, Cypriot-flagged Monchegorsk, finding cargo and documents indicating it was carrying arms from Iran to Syria in contravention of UN resolutions.  Only a full-court international press from the UN Security Council and EU convinced Cyprus to summon the vessel to port for a more-thorough inspection and eventual seizure of the cargo. Subsequent RoC cooperation with the UN's Iran Sanctions Committee (ISC) has been half-hearted…

The relationship between the Cypriot president and his FM is icy by all accounts.  Their Cyprus Problem philosophies are miles apart, for example, with Kyprianou much more the hard-liner.  Personally, the small-townish, USSR-educated, and far-from-eloquent Christofias feels a bit diminutive next to his aristocratic minister.  The president has responded by isolating Kyprianou from the talks and minimizing his influence by seeking greater powers for the Presidential Diplomatic Office, staffed by more trusted confidants. On the Monchegorsk incident and dealings with Syria, as well as on relations with Havana and Caracas, it is clear that the Christofias Palace, not the Kyprianou MFA, is clearly at the helm.


Anonymous said...

(Sorry for straying from the Christofias topic which is undoubtedly extremely important.)

I’ve just read a small part of James Ker-Lindsay’s book, The Cyprus Problem: What Everyone Needs to Know, and on page 5 ( he claims that if a referendum were to be ‘held tomorrow, it is doubtful that even 5 percent of Greek Cypriots would vote in favour of unification [with Greece].’

Greece’s financial problems (and the rest) aside – and I don’t think he’s necessarily taking them into account in his estimation – this 5 percent claim strikes me as very low. Of course there are many issues to be addressed here, but I was just wondering what you guys and girls thought about this? I guess my main question is: What do you think Cyprus as a whole would do?

John Akritas said...

The British academic James Ker-Lindsay is not a good authority on Cyprus. The issue for Cyprus at the moment isn't enosis but ending the Turkish occupation and reuniting the island, so Ker-Lindsay is deliberately trying to mislead by suggesting that the fact that enosis is not on the agenda means that Cypriots are no longer attached to Greece or to Hellenism. However, for the sake of argument, let's say there was no Turkish occupation and Cypriots were able, freely, to vote for any outcome they wanted – independence, enosis or whatever – then I would suggest that 80-90 percent of Cypriots would vote for full union with Greece – economic crisis or no economic crisis. Having said that, Cyprus, as is, is already a Hellenic republic and, to some extent, the goals of enosis have been achieved. Cyprus, in so many ways, is an adjunct of Greece. It's also worth pointing out that those who historically resisted enosis were not Greeks from Cyprus but Greeks from Greece. Official Greece was never that keen on fighting, politically or military, for the union of Cyprus with Greece. The same applies to Crete and other parts of the Greek world that wanted union. In other words, Cypriots are not responsible for the failure of Greece to exert its sovereignty over the island.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your input, John.

Anonymous said...


" Mother Greece" is emasculated, prostrate and impotent. Cyprus mirrors Greece's fate. Who is at the head of greece , Papandraki, same traitor and prodotes like Christofias and his gangsters. There is no difference between the two. Nor is there a difference between the political landscape in both Greece and cyprus. We are down and going out . Toys in the hands of the Israeli-USA axis, and toys in the hands of the emergent turkish neo ottoman. On a recent visit of the Zionist stooge Clinton to Davotoglu, the zionist stooge endorsed turkey's dominant and " leading" role in the region ( under the USA-Israel Aegis). The consequences of this are as asfixiating as mortal for Greece-Cyprus and the entire Aegean.