China’s view of a final agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue

By Nurzhanat Ametbek

Analysts believe that the framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program will pave the way for a comprehensive agreement to be made later this year in June. The final agreement is expected to help maintain the international non-proliferation regime, facilitate stability in the Middle East, and mutually benefit the related parties. Moreover, the agreement could function as a good example of how to resolve similar international disputes in the future.

China’s position towards a final agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue

China believes that the framework nuclear agreement between the US and Iran will have a positive impact on a final agreement. If the final agreement is successfully managed, the US, EU and UN’s sanctions would be removed before the end of this year, and Iran would possibly increase its oil exports. But as many experts stated, in the coming three months there are still uncertainties; it is hard to foresee how long it will take to lift the sanctions and whether the Iranian oil industry will quickly recover or not.

Besides their strategic and energy ties, both countries’ similar historical experiences and political views act as another foundation of the Chinese-Iranian relationship: both have suffered as a result of great powers carving up and exploiting the world, both have experienced sanctions, and both feel dissatisfied with the US’s meddling in the internal affairs of their countries. China will seek to maintain an intermediary position between the US and Iran in order to strike a balance between the positions of the two countries.

But at the same time, we should recognize that the parties may encounter new setbacks in converting this framework agreement into a comprehensive settlement. Though China takes Iran’s side in the US-Iran confrontation, when it comes to its foreign policy, China prioritizes US–Chinese relations. China is extremely careful not to harm what it sees as the more important set of relations with the US. To this day, China diligently works to maintain its cordial relations with Western countries and Israel. Nonetheless, China is trying to strike a balance between protecting Iran’s interests on the one hand, and maintaining its relations with the US on the other.

China’s evaluation of the current situation

The greatest success of the framework agreement is seen in the US’s ability to engage this regional problem in a diplomatic way. For the Western countries, and the US in particular, this formula works to prevent two undesirable scenarios: a nuclear-armed Iran and a war with Iran to prevent it from attaining nuclear weapons.

For the entire region of the Middle East, this framework agreement may reduce the possibility of a war caused by the Iranian nuclear program. Therefore, it has the potential to promote stability in the Middle East. Though Israel remains skeptical about resolving the Iranian nuclear issue by way of a consultation that rules out the application of military means, in the face of international pressure, it will gradually turn away from emphasizing the possibility of activating a military solution.

For Iran, years of sanctions caused a significant decline in the country’s oil revenues. People’s lives were also deeply affected by the sanctions, which also caused a devaluation of the Iranian rail and high unemployment throughout the country. Though this framework agreement does not foresee the immediate lifting of sanctions, it brings with it the expectation that sanctions will be relaxed and eventually removed. In the long term, the final lifting of sanctions will dispel the concerns of domestic and foreign investors. The easing in the relations between the West and Iran that is entailed in this act will help to facilitate foreign investment in the Iranian market, and to promote economic development in the country.

For China, although this framework agreement may cause Chinese companies to face greater competition from the West in Iran, the cooperation between Chinese companies and Iran may actually run more smoothly due to the lifting of sanctions. The promotion of a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear issue has gained international consensus, and Iran and the Western countries are increasingly faced with the urgency to the problem. Now, negotiations have become a realistic option to solving the problem, and China has strongly backed this development.

Whether the final agreement is realistic from the Chinese perspective

It is not hard to see that the Iranian nuclear talks achieved results, and even exhibited a certain degree of compromise in the technical details of a final agreement. Nonetheless, there are still hurdles to be overcome before the issue can be considered as completely resolved. In fact, the prime difficulty in resolving the Iranian nuclear issue can be seen in the great amount of mutual distrust held by both sides; this is supplemented by the fact that a final deal is facing significant opposition from domestic factions in both countries.

In Iran, the Ruhani government wants to solve the problem by way of negotiation and to gain a more relaxed international environment in which Iran can rid itself of the current economic restraints. But the conservative powers in the country are strongly against what they see as significant concessions given to the West within the framework agreement. At the same time, Supreme Leader of Iran Khomeini’s attitude towards the nuclear talks is not optimistic and maintains an air of caution towards the Western countries; Iran’s room for maneuver in negotiating the final deal will be extremely limited.

Meanwhile, Obama is also facing pressure at home, especially from the Republican members of Congress. Pro-Israel factions are also accusing Obama of deviating from the original intentions of the negotiations. The Obama administration sees its preliminary resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue as an outstanding diplomatic achievement brought about by great determination to solve the problem. However, whether the negotiations on a final deal will be crushed under this pressure remains a relevant concern.

Besides, the effects of other factors on the formulation of a final deal should not be ignored, whether they be the current instability in the Middle East, and the roles that certain actors play therein, or the opposition of Israel itself. According to experts, the direct consultation between Iran and the US shows that the relationship between these two countries is undergoing a process of easing, and this makes some allies of the US, and enemies of Iran, in the region such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. The actions of these countries in the region will undoubtedly affect the negotiations on a final agreement.

Moreover, the framework agreement still has a significant handicap, namely, the ‘one agreement, two understandings’ dilemma. Here, the US and Iran perceive of the agreement in very different ways, and this reality has already made the potential final agreement seem frail. Both parties and observers should be psychologically prepared for a breakdown of consensus on the deal before the June deadline for the final agreement. In other words, after the framework agreement, a political solution to the Iranian nuclear issue is in reach, but the negotiating parties still have a long and arduous path in between them and the ultimate conclusion of a final deal.

To sum up, China believes that both sides need to strengthen their political will, take on their lofty responsibilities, and come to trust one another. Until this happens, the parties may find it difficult to grasp this historic opportunity and reach a final agreement before the June deadline.


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The Journal of Turkish Weekly

JTW is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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