China warns US over breaking Iran nuclear deal

Wang Yi
Wang Yi

China has warned the incoming Trump administration against breaking the Iran nuclear accord. The warning comes amid uncertainty about the incoming administration's Iran policy. The international nuclear deal with Iran "should not be affected by any changes in the domestic situations of the countries concerned," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Monday at a news conference in Beijing with his Iranian counterpart, in an apparent reference to US President-elect Donald Trump.

Trump has called the Iran nuclear accord "one of the worst deals I've ever seen negotiated" and vowed to renegotiate or tear it up. Many Republicans in Congress want to scrap the deal entirely and impose sanctions to counter what they say are Iran's destabilizing activities in the Middle East and hostility towards Israel.

The nuclear deal signed last year between Iran and six world powers - China, Russia, the United States, France, Germany, and Britain - dropped crippling international sanctions on Tehran in exchange for Iran's giving up its nuclear capabilities. The deal went into effect in January and all sides have largely abided by it. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tehran has the right to take unspecified retaliatory measures if one side breaks the accord. "Iran will not allow any country to take unilateral action to violate the agreement and Iran has the right to take action against that," Zarif said, adding all parties to the agreement are obliged to implement it.

Wang said implementing the deal was the "joint responsibility and duty of all parties." "What is important is to honor commitments and place emphasis on good faith when it comes to differences or possible differences" over the deal, he said.

Mohammad Javad Zarif

Campaign rhetoric or policy shift?

It remains unclear whether Trump's campaign rhetoric will translate into a policy of unravelling President Barack Obama's signature foreign policy achievement. Trump's cabinet choices, including his pick to lead the CIA, Mike Pompeo, and defense secretary nominee, retired Gen. James Mattis, are hard-line opponents of Iran. In November, Pompeo said on Twitter: "I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world's largest state sponsor of terrorism." Current CIA Director John Brennan warned the incoming administration in a BBC interview last month that scrapping the nuclear deal would be "disastrous."

US prepares 'snap back'

The Iranian and Chinese comments come after the US Senate on Thursday voted 99-1 to extend the Iran Sanctions Act for 10 years after the bill cleared the House by 419-1 vote.  President Barack Obama has indicated he will sign it. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last month the sanctions bill was a breach of the nuclear deal and threatened to retaliate. The Iran Sanctions Act would have expired at the end of the year and US officials said renewing it would not violate the nuclear deal. Washington maintains a host of other sanctions on Iran related to human rights abuses, support for terrorism and the Iranian ballistic missile program. The bill does not directly address the nuclear deal and the White House can issue waivers for sanctions to comply with the accord. US lawmakers and officials say it is necessary to extend the Iran Sanctions Act in order allow the president to "snap-back" nuclear related sanctions in the event Iran does not live up to its side of the deal.

Iran has complained it has not received the full benefits of sanctions relief because of these other non-nuclear related sanctions. The US' complex sanctions against the Iranian regime raise the cost and risk of doing business with the Islamic Republic because non-US entities doing business in the US may be subject to US laws. None of the other parties to the deal have expressed an interest in making any changes to the nuclear accord. Any unilateral US move to re-impose sanctions on Iran so long as Tehran abides by the deal would likely not be effective because other parties to the agreement would not follow the US' lead.

Since dismantling the international sanctions regime, China, Russia and Europe have all rushed to strike trade and investment deals with oil-rich Iran.

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