WASHINGTON (Dispatches) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has threatened China with sanctions if it signs a strategic partnership deal with Iran.
Pompeo told Fox News on Sunday that U.S. sanctions against Iran would be applied to Chinese state firms if it finalizes the security and economic deal, cited in some unconfirmed media reports to be worth $400 billion.
"I think countries in the Middle East should see this for what it is. China’s entry into Iran will destabilize the Middle East,” the hardline U.S. diplomat said.
Earlier this month, Iran announced that it is negotiating a 25-year agreement with China encompassing trade, energy, infrastructure, telecommunications, and even military cooperation.
The prospect of a strategic partnership between Iran and China comes at a critical time when the U.S. is ratcheting up its hostility toward both countries and imposing new sanctions on their companies.
China obviously sees value in forging a comprehensive arrangement with Iran – a large, important regional player whose vast energy resources and tremendous economic potential make it a natural candidate for China’s westward-looking Belt and Road Initiative.
China still buys oil from Iran and has become Iran’s key trading partner, including as a principal supplier of heavy machinery and manufacturing goods.
More broadly, China has steadily increased its interest in West Asia over the past decade. It is the chief sponsor of the regional Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and it has invested upwards of $57 billion in Pakistan.
"The new China-Iran partnership represents a massive failure of the administration’s Iran policy,” the Chicago Tribune wrote last month.
In May 2018, President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, but the U.S. paper said far from forcing Tehran back to the table, the administration’s new policy has drawn Beijing and Tehran closer.
For Iran, the economic investments, secure oil outlets and a growing military partnership offer an escape from the pressure exerted by the U.S. and its Persian Gulf allies.
For China, the new ports and rail lines will also extend its Belt and Road infrastructure project deeper into the Middle East.
"But for the U.S., the expanding partnership represents a double blow. It gives Tehran an out from the maximum pressure campaign that was supposed to force Iran back to the table and end its nuclear program entirely, if not end the government itself. And it gives China a crucial geopolitical win in the rapidly accelerating strategic competition with Washington,” the Chicago Tribune said.
According to the paper, the decision to go it alone reduced the chances that the new U.S. policy would succeed.
"While Washington withdrew from the deal, all of the others remained within it. None followed it in imposing sanctions, thus limiting the impact of the U.S. effort to isolate Tehran.”
On Monday, Russian first deputy chairman of the Federation Council Committee on International Affairs Vladimir Jabbarov stressed that Moscow will continue its cooperation with Iran in defiance of Washington.
Moscow and Tehran will continue their trade regardless of Washington’s sanctions and demands, Jabbarov said.
"Russia will not allow others to decide for its foreign policy and the Kremlin does not look to Washington. The U.S. imposes sanctions on Russia one day and sanctions Iran the other day,” he added.
"We should take our own interests into consideration,” the Russian senator said, calling on other nations not to follow Washington’s lead.
Meanwhile, Russia’s permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna said Sunday Iran’s nuclear capacity is "absolutely legitimate” as it fits within the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
"These opportunities and capabilities are absolutely legitimate as a long as they are used for peaceful purposes,” Mikhail Ulyanov tweeted.
"The duty of IAEA (the International Atomic Energy Agency) is to certify non-diversion of nuclear materials,” he added.
Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif said Sunday Iran and Russia must upgrade their document on promotion of lasting cooperation to strategic ties.
Zarif told chairman of the Russian State Duma’s foreign affairs committee Leonid Slutsky in Tehran that given the level of cooperation between the two countries in different fields, it is necessary to update the document.