Iran on Saturday said the latest UN report on its nuclear activities, which calculated it had slashed its nuclear stockpile by around 80 percent, proved its atomic program was peaceful. However, past reports have also indicated Iran has grown better at hiding at least some of its nuclear activities.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in its quarterly report on Friday that Iran had reduced its stockpile of higher-grade enriched uranium gas under an interim pact with world powers.
It also said it had started to engage with a long-stalled IAEA investigation into suspected weapons research.
A steep cut in uranium gas - a relatively short technical step away from weapons-grade material - is among concessions demanded by the United states and its Western countries in return for limited easing of economic sanctions against Tehran.
"The report is an affirmation of Iran's claim to peaceful activities," nuclear spokesman Behruz Kamalvandi told the official news agency IRNA.
"No deviations have been seen in these activities."
However, a confidential new report by a UN panel highlighted Iran's methods of evading sanctions – from concealing titanium tubes inside steel pipes to using its petrochemical industry as a cover to obtain items for a heavy-water nuclear reactor.
The report by the UN Panel of Experts, published at the begining of May, and which monitors compliance with the Security Council's sanctions regime on Iran, said Tehran's attempts to illicitly procure materials for its disputed nuclear and missile programs may have slowed down as it pursues talks on a long-term deal with world powers.
But the experts' report, which reached the Security Council's Iran sanctions committee days ahead of a new round of Vienna talks between Iran and six world powers, said an alternative explanation could be that Tehran had merely learned how to outsmart security and intelligence services in acquiring sensitive components and materials.
Hamid Babaei, spokesman for Iran's UN mission, said: "Iran's procurement for its peaceful nuclear activities are not illicit; all Iran has done so far is in compliance with its NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty) rights and obligations ... The irony is whatever Iran does in good faith still tends to be seen with suspicion rather than normal behavior of an NPT member."
One example of concealment given by the panel's report was a set of titanium tubes hidden inside a shipment of stainless steel pipes manufactured in and shipped from China. The pipes were ordered by Ocean Lotka International Shipping and Forwarding Co. on Valiasr St. in Tehran.
The report, seen by Reuters, includes a photo of 10 titanium tubes snugly fitted inside steel piping. The report provides no details of the potential nuclear applications of the titanium tubes, noting only that "the Panel's investigation into this reported incident is ongoing".
The experts recommend that governments exercise greater vigilance over freight-forwarding firms, which often appear as the ordering party on shipments of items destined for Iran. While such practices are not necessarily illegal, the panel says Tehran could use them to conceal final destinations or uses.
"In three cases inspected under the current mandate, names of freight forwarders were recorded on shipping documentation in the place of consignors or consignees," the report said.
"The Panel notes that the International Freight Forwarders Association (FIATA) has issued a notice to its members warning about the increased use of counterfeit Bills of Lading in connection with shipments to and from Iran," it added.