United Nations:  A report by UN experts says Iran’s purchases for its banned nuclear and missile programs have slowed over the last six to nine months which could be the result of the changed political climate under President Hassan Rouhani or its use of new clandestine methods.

Excerpts of the report, obtained yesterday by The Associated Press, also stressed that “Iran continues to make extensive use of front companies to procure items for prohibited activities.”

The panel of experts, appointed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, conducts investigations and reports to the UN Security Council committee monitoring implementation and alleged violations of sanctions against Iran.

The report, which has not been made public, coincides with yesterday’s start of a new round of high-level negotiations between Iran and six world powers in Vienna aimed at reaching an agreement to limit Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons before a July 20 deadline.

Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, aimed at producing nuclear energy, but the US, its Western allies and Israel have long believed Tehran’s real aim is producing nuclear weapons.

According to the panel’s report, several countries that were not identified “noted that procurement associated with Iran’s prohibited activities appears to have slowed over the last six to nine months.”

“This slowdown could be explained by Iran using more opaque means of procurement, or states reporting less actively,” the report said. “It may also be the case that Iran has deliberately slowed the pace of procurement, possibly coinciding with a change in the political climate under President Rouhani” and the start of the nuclear talks.

After centrist Rouhani replaced hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in June 2013, he pledged to reduce confrontation with the international community over its nuclear activities.

He agreed to restart stalled negotiations with the six powers in November in a deal which required Iran to stop enrichment of uranium to 20 percent which is a possible pathway to nuclear arms in exchange for the easing of some Western sanctions.

A final agreement between Iran and the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany would lead to the lifting of all sanctions, which have crippled its oil-based economy.

According to the experts’ report, “Iran faces substantial difficulties in accessing the international financial system because of the sweeping impact of unilateral sanctions.”

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