BEIJING – Iran has called on China to help safeguard the nuclear deal it reached with other major world powers, saying Tehran will resort to “other options” if its interests are threatened by US sanctions.
The nation’s ambassador to China Ali Asghar Khaji said Beijing had a positive role to play in upholding the deal, and should boost economic cooperation with Tehran.
He also said the Iranian foreign minister chose Beijing as his first stop on a whirlwind diplomatic tour last week because of China’s “importance” to Iran.
“We expect other remaining members of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, including China, to help implement and continue this deal, and fulfill their commitment and obligations according to this deal,” Khaji said, referring to the plan reached in 2015 that will see Iran significantly reducing its uranium stockpile by 2030 in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
“If we could gain these rights and benefits from this deal we will stay in it. If these Iranian rights were not satisfied, and our interests were not reached, we will think about other options,” he said in an interview with the South China Morning Post last week, without specifying what the other options were.
The nuclear deal reached between Iran, Germany and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – was once seen as a consequential accord that would reshape Middle East politics.
But US President Donald Trump called the agreement “a horrible, one-sided deal” and announced the US would withdraw, leaving Iran vulnerable to a new wave of sanctions, while companies with business ties to Tehran may face US penalties.
German newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported on Sunday that diplomats from Europe, China and Russia are discussing a new accord to offer Iran financial aid to curb its ballistic missile development, in the hope of salvaging the 2015 deal, according to Reuters. The officials will meet in Vienna in the coming week under the leadership of senior European Union diplomat Helga Schmid to discuss the next steps.
Last week, Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met his counterparts from China and Russia, as well as Britain, France, Germany and the European Union, in a bid to rescue the deal. Despite Washington’s withdrawal, all the other signatory nations have vowed to keep the pact alive.
“So with this positive atmosphere, we believe that, and we hope that, we can continue the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action without the United States,” Khaji said.
Khaji said Zarif “intentionally” made Beijing his first destination on the trip, before Moscow and Brussels, because China is Iran’s top trading partner and No 1 oil and non-oil buyer, as well as major investor. “This decision was made because of the importance of China for us,” he said. “We expect China, as a member of the 5+1, to continue to play its positive role to implement and safeguard the nuclear deal.”
Under a separate agreement signed last year, China National Nuclear Corporation was contracted to redesign Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor so that it will be unable to produce plutonium.
Khaji criticised the US pull-out as “totally illegal” and signaled to the international community that Washington was not trustworthy. “Not only Iranians, but also other nations and countries lose their trust in the United States because of this withdrawal,” he said.
The ambassador did not rule out the possibility of renegotiation with the US, or even a new deal, but said Iran would make decisions according to the current situation and would follow up on its legal rights.
During Zarif’s three-hour meeting with his counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing last Sunday, the Chinese side reaffirmed China’s commitment to safeguard the agreement and also agreed to expand economic cooperation between the two sides.
“Our Chinese friends again reaffirmed their stance against unilateral sanctions and actually pictured the framework of the future cooperation between the two countries on how to expand the relations,” Khaji said.
On Thursday, Iran’s oil minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh also said state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation was ready to replace Total on a major gas field project in Iran if the French energy giant pulled out.
China has been Iran’s biggest trading partner and export market for the past 10 years. In 2017, their two-way trade jumped 21 per cent from a year earlier to reach US$37.3 billion, while more than 200,000 trips were made between the two countries.
Iran is also an important part of China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” – aiming to boost trade and infrastructure links from Asia to Africa and Europe – because of its strategic location between East and West, just as it was a centre of the ancient Silk Road. Iran signed a memorandum of understanding to join the initiative in 2016, when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Tehran.
The bilateral relationship between the two countries has also improved in other areas such as security, Khaji said.
Iran is an observer at the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation security bloc, and Xi has invited Iranian President Hassan Rowhani to this year’s SCO summit in Qingdao next month.
“We are positively looking at this invitation,” the ambassador said.
Khaji also condemned Israel for causing the deaths last week of more than 60 Palestinians protesting at the Gaza-Israel border over the US moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, saying US and Israeli actions were destabilising the region and it was like “putting oil on this fire and escalating tension in the region”. “One of the important causes of the instability in the Middle East region is the US decision and actions,” he said.
By Liu Zhen
South China Morning Post