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Iran's illicit procurement 'appears to slow'

Vienna, May 11, 2014

Iran's attempts to illicitly procure materials for its disputed nuclear and missile programmes appear to have slowed down as it pursues talks on a long-term accord with world powers, a UN expert panel said in a confidential report seen by Reuters.

The UN Panel of Experts, who monitor compliance with the Security Council's sanctions regime on Iran, presented this conclusion cautiously, suggesting it was also possible Tehran has simply learned to outsmart security and intelligence services in its pursuit of sensitive components and materials.

The report cited "a decrease in the number of detected attempts by Iran to procure items for prohibited programmes, and related seizures, since mid-2013 ... It is possible that this decrease reflects the new political environment in Iran and diplomatic progress towards a comprehensive solution."

Tehran embarked on a negotiated solution to its nuclear dispute with big powers after moderate President Hassan Rouhani won election last June, replacing a confrontational ideologue. The high-level talks have yielded an interim deal easing fears of a wider Middle East war and will resume this week in Vienna.

The report said it had become increasingly difficult to pinpoint any links between "dual-use" items - those with both civilian and military applications - that Iran has sought to procure and potential recipients in the Islamic Republic.

But, the report cautioned, "this may be a function of more sophisticated procurement strategies on the part of Iran, which has developed methods of concealing procurement, while expanding prohibited activities. Such methods can also be used by Iran to procure and finance legitimate trade, which further complicates the efforts of states to identify illicit procurement."

The report added that Iran had "also demonstrated a growing capability to produce key items indigenously". Among sensitive dual-use items Iran has pursued abroad over the years have been aluminum, carbon fibre and special valves.

Iran's priority in negotiations with the powers is an end to international sanctions that have hammered its oil-reliant economy. The Islamic Republic has long denied charges from the West and its allies that it is seeking a nuclear weapons capability under cover of a drive for peaceful atomic energy.

While Iran may have scaled back efforts to bypass sanctions aimed at preventing it from developing its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, the report made clear that the panel had registered no change in Iranian actions to dodge a U.N. arms embargo, especially in its weapons supplies to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in his war with rebels trying to oust him.

"Member states and the media continue to report arms transfers from Iran, including to Syria, Gaza, Sudan, and Bahrain," the U.N. report said.

"Iran's military support for the current government in Syria is well documented. The war has also created additional opportunities for the IRGC's (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) Quds Force to be even more active in the country."

Among the examples of Iran's flouting of the embargo, the report cited arms, explosives and munitions shipments seized by Israeli and Kenyan authorities.

The expert panel also warned that governments have expressed concern about the ambiguity created by the diplomatic push for a long-term deal between Iran and six world powers that would allow Tehran to ultimately engage in activities prohibited under UN sanctions, above all uranium enrichment.

"A challenge for states during this period of intense negotiation and, should it occur, implementation of a comprehensive solution, will be to maintain clarity with respect to state obligations under existing Security Council sanctions," the report said. - Reuters




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