China benefits from U.S. stubbornness over Iran

One wonders how President Biden reacted to the news recently reported by CGTN and other Chinese news agencies in which China’s president Xi Jinping said his country and Iran have common interests they should further develop. President Xi added that Beijing supports Tehran’s “reasonable demands” regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the so-called Iran/nuclear deal.

We know the current state of U.S. relations with Iran is comparable to U.S. relations with China. Washington appears comfortable stonewalling opportunities for cooperation between itself and China or Iran. 

Beijing and Tehran have responded by extending the hand of friendship to each other. Washington should take careful note.

President Xi’s aforementioned announcement came about a month after China and Iran signed a 25-year pact that covers trade, security and more. The National Journal summarized the deal, stating:

“As the years pass, the respective economies will become more interdependent and interconnected making it more difficult for such an agreement to expire. It is over-simplistic to call it a $400 billion deal, for its strategic significance will determine the future of the Middle East.”

Viewed another way, and far more bluntly, China is reaping the rewards of American foreign policy that has sought (yet failed) for more than 40 years to destroy the Iranian government. Because America wants to be its enemy, Iran has sought friends elsewhere. Enter China. 

Dating to the revolution in the late 1970’s that brought Ayatollah Khomeini out of exile and into the seat of government, the U.S. has used economic sanctions, drone surveillance and occasional military attacks in efforts to weaken the Islamic leadership. The sanctions have done immense harm to the Iranian people, and the military ventures have increased the enmity the Iranian population feels about the American government. In the latest insult, the Biden administration also refused to extend humanitarian relief to Iran, which has suffered greatly from the coronavirus.

Let’s acknowledge Tehran has not been the most noble of actors on the global stage. Calling for the annihilation of Israel and supporting international groups with nefarious aims are top examples, and the U.S. continues to use them as reasons to sow doubt about Iran’s sincerity for improved relations with Washington.

Let’s not forget President Xi’s comments about Beijing-Tehran relations came on the same day U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel. The secretary almost immediately said the U.S. would remain in close contact with the Israelis as the Biden administration decides whether to re-enter the JCPOA. The Trump administration, in one of its many short-sighted decisions, pulled the U.S. out of that agreement. To date, the Biden administration has made no concrete move to re-establish America’s commitment to the deal, and this gives credence to the message inside Iran that the U.S. is letting Israel determine American strategy about the JCPOA.

The JCPOA was one of the signature achievements of the Obama administration. An imperfect accord? Of course. However, in diplomacy, there is no perfect agreement: Bargaining ensures that all parties give and take a little in order to secure a deal. The finalized agreement called for Iran to eliminate its stockpile of enriched uranium, among other items, in exchange for relief from punishing sanctions imposed on the country by the U.S., the European Union and the United Nations. 

The available evidence suggested Tehran was adhering to its requirements, which made the Trump decision all the more bizarre. (Yes, Tehran framed that as Trump doing Israel’s bidding.) Iran no longer feels compelled to accept the restrictions on its nuclear program, a decision that enrages Israel and puts significant pressure on the U.S. to resume engaging with Iran and the other signatories to the deal. 

So far, the U.S. has done nothing. But China has. Washington’s apparent desire to continue confrontation is met with Beijing’s interest in cooperation.

We can expect Beijing-Tehran relations to strengthen. Does Washington care? 

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