Iran has attempted to acquire nuclear technology in Germany even after the atomic accord it reached with western powers in Vienna last July, according to the German domestic intelligence agency.
The annual report of the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV) said that illegal Iranian attempts to procure technology “continued on a quantitatively high level by international standards” in Germany in 2015.
“This was particularly the case for merchandise that could be deployed in the field of nuclear technology,” the report said. There was also an increase in Iranian efforts to buy parts for missiles that could be fitted with nuclear warheads, it added.
In last year’s landmark agreement, Iran agreed to roll back its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of western economic sanctions, ending a 12-year stand-off with the west. So far, the signs are that Iran has kept up its side of the bargain, shipping thousands of pounds of enriched uranium — almost all of its stockpile — to Russia and deactivating its heavy water reactor at Arak.
In January, the UN nuclear watchdog certified that Iran had fulfilled its initial commitments under the agreement and some sanctions were lifted as a result — although Tehran has complained that it has not received the economic benefits it was initially promised.
Tehran has always insisted that its nuclear programme was for peaceful civilian means. Iranian officials could not be contacted for comment on Thursday, a public holiday in the Islamic Republic.
The disclosures by the BfV will be welcomed by opponents of the nuclear deal, such as Israel, which says Iran cannot be trusted to give up its ambition of building an atomic bomb.
A more detailed assessment of Iran’s activities in Germany was contained in the annual report of the BfV in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, which was published on Monday.
It said that counter-intelligence agents had recorded 141 attempts to acquire technology for “proliferation” purposes in 2015 — nearly twice as many as in the previous year. Two-thirds of these — or nearly 100 — were traced to Iranian entities.
But the report said Iran’s main focus was to procure parts for its missile programme, rather than for nuclear purposes. German officials have used that detail to stress that Iran is not necessarily in violation of last year’s nuclear accord.
“The agreement with Iran was about nuclear capabilities,” said one. “It has nothing to do with the ballistic missiles that Iran is in possession of.”
There was also an increase in Iranian efforts to buy parts for missiles that could be fitted with nuclear warheads
– Annual report of the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz
Neither report gives a breakdown of how much of the 2015 activity took place before or after the summer deal, but they make clear that some attempts to acquire equipment were made after July.
A UN resolution agreed as part of the July deal called upon Iran not to carry out work on missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons. In March, Iran provoked Israeli protests after its Revolutionary Guard conducted a new round of ballistic missiles tests.
The BfV in North Rhine-Westphalia said Iran often targeted so-called “dual-use” technology that could be used for both civilian and military purposes. It said Iranians, as well as other “proliferation” states such as Pakistan, were acquiring merchandise under the pretext of “deploying it in civilian research, or in the oil, gas and steel industries”, and were often using “forged end-use certificates, or other seemingly official documents”.
The BfV also said that Iranian agents often used front companies in countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and China to conceal the final destination of the merchandise.
Volker Beck, a German MP from the opposition Green party who is also chairman of the German-Israeli Parliamentary Group, said the BfV reports were disturbing. “If we can ensure that Iran is not trying to obtain nuclear weapons, then last year’s deal with Tehran is a success,” he said. “But if the agreement is not working then that presents a big danger for the security of the region, of Israel, and of Germany.”
Additional reporting by Stefan Wagstyl
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