America is fighting a constant battle to stem the flow of arms from eastern Europe to terrorist groups and unstable regimes in the Middle East, U.S. embassy cables leaked on Monday night revealed.

U.S. officials are shown attempting to intervene in more than a dozen international arms deals which involved countries including Ukraine, Bulgaria, Armenia and China selling weapons to customers in Iran, Iraq, Yemen and south Sudan.

The secret WikiLeaks documents record American officials confronting Washington’s growing concern at arms proliferation in the Middle East in often frank exchanges with governments in the former Soviet states.

In one deal detailed in the cables late in 2009, Yemen’s defence ministry bought $100m of weapons — including heavy artillery ammunition, sniper rifles, anti-aircraft guns and howitzers — from the front company of an illicit Serbian arms dealer last December. The Cyprus-based company is linked to Slobodan Tesic, a Serbian named on the United Nations security council’s travel ban list, according to the cable from the U.S. embassy in Saa’na reported in December 2009.

U.S. diplomats also reported intelligence that Yemen was pursuing further arms deals with eastern European countries for $30m to $55m each, sparking fears in Washington the weapons may be diverted to Yemen’s black market, which is thought to help arm Hamas’s fight against Israel and may further destabilise a country fast becoming al-Qaida’s new stronghold.

In January this year the U.S. embassy in Sofia warned the Bulgarian government against approving a deal allegedly financed by the United Arab Emirates to send 30,000 assault rifles, 1,00,000 high-explosive charges, rocket-propelled grenades and ammunition to Yemen from the Bulgarian arms manufacturer Arsenal.

Reacting to intelligence of Yemen’s arms negotiations with eastern European manufacturers, the U.S. embassy in Saa’na reported: “It is currently unclear if the Yemeni government is merely shopping around, or if the country is actually attempting to purchase several hundred million dollars in small arms for use against Houthi rebels. If the latter is true, we have concerns about stockpile security and the potential for these weapons to be diverted to Yemen’s robust black market.” The cables show the U.S. military requested access to Yemeni airspace to mount surveillance operations against arms smugglers using small sailing boats to ship weapons across the Red Sea to Sudan and then overland to Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

“These shipments usually transit in small groups of flagged and unflagged dhows that use territorial waters, busy harbours, and mangroves to mask their routes and increase their likelihood of evading interception by U.S. or other forces,” the cable said.

There was further concern about Bulgaria’s role in 2008 when the secretary of state at the time, Condoleezza Rice, ordered diplomats in nearby Armenia to complain about an arms shipment originating from Bulgaria that was used in lethal attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq.

U.S. diplomats rebuked the Armenian defence minister for personally facilitating the sale of 100 Bulgarian-made RPG-22 anti-tank rockets and machine guns to Iran, almost 10% of which were recovered from Shia militants in Iraq and were used in lethal attacks on US forces in 2008. Despite assurances from the Armenian government that the Bulgarian weapons would be used only in Armenia, U.S. forces in Iraq recovered two of the weapons whose serial numbers matched those originally sold to Armenia.

“The U.S. does not tolerate its friends serving as an illicit conduit for Iranian arms procurement, especially when it has been well documented that Iran, a state sponsor of terrorism, has armed Shia militants in Iraq and Hezbollah in Syria and Lebanon,” diplomats told their Armenian counterparts, before threatening to impose U.S. sanctions.

In November 2009, during U.S.-Ukraine non-proliferation talks in Kiev, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state, Vann Van Diepen, complained about the sale of potential ballistic missile parts to Iran and rebuked the country over evidence that in mid-August 2009 Ukrainian firm Ukrspetsexport shipped a cargo of armoured personnel carrier components, automatic grenade launchers, anti-tank guided missiles, and tank machine guns to Burma.

Van Diepen said the deal came despite assurances made to the U.S. government that there would be no further arms exports to the repressive military dictatorship after 2008.

Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2010

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