China expected to work with Europe to preserve Iran nuclear deal after Trump threat

Analysts say Beijing will cooperate with other countries to ensure agreement stays in place even if Washington withdraws from it

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 October, 2017, 8:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 October, 2017, 10:24pm

China is expected to step up cooperation with European countries to preserve the Iran nuclear deal reached two years ago after US President Donald Trump indicated that he might decertify the agreement, analysts said.

The assessment came after Trump on Friday defied both US allies and adversaries by refusing to formally certify that Tehran is complying with the accord even though international inspectors say it is.

Although US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Sunday said the US was trying to stay in the Iran nuclear deal while hoping to achieve more from it, there are concerns that the historic agreement might collapse and have a spillover effect on other issues such as North Korea.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the possible US pull-out from the deal could provoke military confrontation, and push European countries closer to Russia and China.

“As Europeans together, we are very worried that the decision of the US president could lead us back into military confrontation with Iran,” Gabriel told reporters ahead of a meeting with other European foreign ministers.

Trump decertifies and threatens to cancel Iran nuclear deal

The 2015 pact between Iran, Germany and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council lifted sanctions in exchange for guarantees that Tehran would not pursue a nuclear weapons programme. Iran agreed to transform its plant, buried deep inside a mountain at Fordow, into a centre for science research.

China had pushed for the deal, saying striking a comprehensive agreement on schedule was the trend of the times and the desire of the people.

Pang Zhongying, an international relations expert at Ocean University in Qingdao, said China would work with Europe and Russia to ensure the deal remained valid even if Trump withdrew from it.

“China’s role in the Middle East is limited, so while it might not take charge on this, it will encourage Germany and France to lead the talks to preserve this important deal,” Pang said.

Iranians mock ‘ridiculous’ Trump speech, while Europeans stand by Tehran nuclear deal

China and Iran have close economic, trade and energy ties. Chinese state companies are active in the country, building highways, mining and making steel.

A US$4.8 billion deal signed in September between Iranian firm Petropars, Chinese state company CNPC and France’s Total will see the world’s largest natural gas field – South Pars in Iran – come on stream in 2021.

China and Iran also conducted a joint naval drill in June after their first such exercise in 2014.

Zha Daojiong, an international relations expert at Peking University, said Washington’s move would not affect China’s ties with other parties involved in the nuclear deal.

“The US action on the deal is unlikely to have any impact on China’s relations with other parties to the agreement,” Zha said. “The good news is that Iran is interested in keeping the deal intact. That’s a good basis for the other countries to start working towards finding a path that is acceptable to everyone involved.”

Additional reporting by Reuters