Weapons aboard Karine-A ship
Weapons aboard Karine-A shipIsrael news photo: IDF

Despite a worldwide arms embargo, Iran has been able to import over a half billion dollars' worth of weapons over the past several years, while Syria was able to get nearly $200 million in imported weapons in recent years.

The figures came from a report submitted to the United Nations Thursday by international aid agency Oxfam, based on information supplied by the  Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Altogether, the report says, countries under full or partial UN arms embargo were able to import over $2 billion in arms between 2000 and 2010, the period covered in the report. During that time, there were 26 such UN-declared embargos.

In 2007, the UN called on member states to “vigilantly enforce” the arms embargos imposed on countries accused of violating human rights or of failing to comply with the UN or other countries on promoting peace. However, the report says, apparently not all UN-member states – especially China and Russia – have been doing their part. Most of the weapons acquired by Iran came from China, while Russia has been “fingered” as the main supplier to Syria.

The problem, said an Oxfam official, is that no one is enforcing the embargos that are imposed. “Existing arms embargos are far too easy to break or ignore, said Ann MacDonald, who heads the Oxfam campaign against illegal arms imports.” The lack of international regulation means that states under embargo have been importing whatever weapons they choose with impunity.”

A new method of controlling arms shipments is needed, but “the challenge is to ensure the new treaty is really strong. It must unambiguously stop arms transfers where they would fuel conflict, poverty or human rights abuses,” she said, adding that world trade in coffee, cocoa, and bananas is more right now more closely regulated than arms sales. “How can the sale of bananas be more tightly controlled than the sale of machine guns? It just doesn’t make sense,” MacDonald added.

Speaking Wednesday, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mahdi Akhondzadeh's slammed the U.S. and other Western countries for their efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program. At a meeting on nuclear non-proliferation in Vienna, Akhondzadeh said that "certain nuclear weapon states” were continuing to develop nuclear weapons themselves, despite signing various non-proliferation treaties. Akhondzadeh did not name names, but observers said it was likely he was referring to the U.S., Germany, and France, all of which pressed Iran to attend talks on Tehran's nuclear program, scheduled for later this month.

"Certain nuclear weapon states are expected to display sincerity and political will rather than hypocrisy with regard to their nuclear disarmament obligations," Akhondzadeh added.