The British government has uncovered a secret nuclear procurement network Iran has been using to secretly pursue nuclear materials, Reuters reported on Monday. The revelation shows that Iran has continued to violate UN resolutions even during recent negotiations to wind down the country’s nuclear program, and increases fears that the country is planning to cheat once a final agreement is reached.
The UK’s discovery was originally a secret, and has only become public because the country notified the UN’s Panel of Experts, a body that helps monitor Iran’s compliance with UN sanctions, and a confidential report from that panel was turned over to Reuters.
“The UK 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 Company (TESA) and Kalay Electric Company (KEC)’,” the panel said in the report. Both TESA and KEC have been hit with international sanctions because they are believed to have ties with Iran’s nuclear program. In order to evade tight international trade sanctions, Iran typically uses businesses as fronts in order to procure needed materials on the sly.
The revelation of ongoing ties to blacklisted companies goes against official declarations that Iran has been acting in good faith while negotiating a nuke deal with the United States and five other major powers. The Obama administration has consistently maintained that Iran is complying with a November 2013 deal that was supposed to slow Iran’s nuclear activities as a precursor to additional talks. However, Britain’s discovery indicates that Iran was working to evade sanctions at least as recently as last year.
Under the tentative final agreement reached on April 2, Iran is supposed to scale back its uranium enrichment capacity by 70 percent in return for the easing of trade sanctions. The deal is supposed to be finalized by June 30, but evidence that Iran plans to cheat could undermine it at the eleventh hour.
However, at least one expert argued that current Iranian cheating doesn’t warrant substantial concern.
“This has little bearing on Iran’s trustworthiness to abide by a deal that limits its program,” Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies told The Guardian. “It would feel an obligation to abide by limits to which it agrees, as opposed to UN Security Council resolutions which it argues were unjustly imposed on it.”
Fitzpatrick said the new information, rather than being a deal-breaker, simply showed the importance of negotiating strong monitoring practices going forward, coupled with clear rules regulating what nuclear materials Iran is allowed to obtain.