World

Britain says Iran still trying to buy nuclear technology

Reuters

Britain has informed a United Nations sanctions panel of an Iranian nuclear procurement network linked to two blacklisted firms, according to a confidential report by the panel.

The existence of such a network could add to Western concerns over whether Tehran can be trusted to adhere to a nuclear deal, due by June 30, in which it will agree to restrict sensitive nuclear work in exchange for sanctions relief.

Talks between six major powers and Tehran are approaching the final stages after they hammered out a preliminary agreement on April 2, with Iran committing to reduce the number of centrifuges it operates and to other long-term nuclear limitations.

“The U.K. government informed the panel on 20 April 2015 that it ‘is aware of an active Iranian nuclear procurement network which has been associated with Iran’s Centrifuge Technology Co. (TESA) and Kalay Electric Co. (KEC),’ ” the panel of experts said in its annual report. The panel monitors Iran’s compliance with the U.N. sanctions regime.

KEC is under U.N. Security Council sanctions, while TESA is under U.S. and European Union sanctions due to their suspected links to banned Iranian nuclear activities.

Iran, which is has been under sanctions for years, has a long history of illicit nuclear procurement using front companies and other methods of skirting sanctions. That has enabled it to develop a substantial atomic program in spite of aggressive international efforts to curtail it, U.N. diplomats say.

The United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency have repeatedly said that Tehran has so far complied with the terms of a limited agreement struck in November 2013 between Iran and the six powers involving some reductions in its nuclear activities, including enrichment.

The panel’s 41-page document did not contain further details on the British report.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf played down the report’s significance. She acknowledged that Iranian sanctions violations have continued, and noted that Washington has repeatedly blacklisted Iranian entities due to illicit procurement while negotiations with Tehran were underway.

Nuclear enrichment centrifuges are used to purify uranium for use as fuel for power plants or, if purified to a very high level, in weapons.

Tehran denies allegations from Western powers and their allies that it is amassing the capability to produce nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy program.

The panel said that the British information about the Iranian procurement network was received too recently for it to conduct an independent investigation of the allegations.

U.N. sanctions in place since 2006 bar Tehran from pursuing sensitive nuclear activities, including uranium enrichment, as well as ballistic missile work. There are also U.S. and EU sanctions on Iran, which have crippled its economy.

Apart from the British notice and expressions of concern from some member states about continued Iranian procurement activities, the panel said it had received no new reports from U.N. member states of confirmed cases of noncompliance.

But it said that could simply indicate that some states are refraining from reporting violations to avoid undermining the delicate nuclear talks. It said that some members’ assessment was that Iran’s procurement and “circumvention techniques” remain mostly unchanged.

It cited an example of an unnamed member state saying that an Iranian entity had recently attempted to acquire compressors, a key component in the uranium enrichment process, using false end-user certificates in an attempt to evade controls.