Britain Warns UN of 'Active Iranian Nuclear Procurement Network'

Two Iranian companies named in British warning, both of which sanctioned by U.S., but no further details given.

Iran's President Hassan Rohani.
Iran's President Hassan Rohani. AP

Britain has told a UN panel of experts that it is aware of an "active Iranian nuclear procurement network" linked to two Iranian companies, raising new concerns as world powers began Thursday to work out the details of a possible comprehensive agreement with Iran over its nuclear program.

Two UN sources confirmed Thursday that Britain's warning on April 20 is included in a confidential report by the panel. The sources spoke on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it.

The warning names two companies, "Iran's Centrifuge Technology Company and Kalay Electric Company," but it gives no details. Both companies are under U.S. sanctions, and Kalay Electric Company is on the UN sanctions list.

World powers, including the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany, are aiming for a deal on Iran's nuclear program by June 30 with a goal of slowing any path the country might have toward developing a nuclear weapon.

Iran, which insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, has not commented on the report by a panel of experts for the UN sanctions committee on Iran.

Iran is pushing for UN and other sanctions on it to be lifted as soon as a nuclear agreement with the United States and others is reached.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Thursday, "We remain concerned about their procurement, taken steps to designate entities for procurement in the recent past." She said the U.S. has ongoing discussions with the UN about the issue.

The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security has described the Tehran-based Kalay Electric Company as being "Iran's primary centrifuge research and development site in the late 1990s and early 2000s, until Iran moved operations to the Natanz site in 2002." It has said the company was private until being bought by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

"The name 'Kalaye Electric' means 'electric goods,' implying that Iran kept the original name to help disguise the true purpose of the facility," the institute has written. It added that when the International Atomic Energy Agency asked to inspect the site in 2003, Iran responded that it was a watch factory that also made a few centrifuge components.

The Treasury Department in 2011 said the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company "plays a crucial role in Iran's uranium enrichment nuclear program. It is involved in the production of IR-1 centrifuges, the type of centrifuge Iran has used to enrich uranium and has used in facilities belonging to ... Kalaye Electric Company."

The news of the warning to the U.N. panel comes after Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Secretary of State John Kerry met Monday for the first time since a marathon negotiating session in Switzerland ended with the declaration of an understanding.

The challenge now lies in filling in the details. Zarif told an event in New York on Wednesday that "wording problems that pertain to all issues" still need to be worked out. He said Iran and world powers would meet Thursday to start bringing together the elements of a draft agreement, with meetings starting Monday in Europe to finalize all its elements.

One concern is whether Iran has declared everything it has in its nuclear program, especially on the military side.

In a speech on Monday to a global conference to review a landmark treaty on disarmament, the head of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, warned that the IAEA "is not in a position to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities."