China promises ‘relentless efforts’ to save Iran nuclear deal after US drone strike on Qassem Soleimani

Wendy Wu

China said it will “take relentless efforts” to salvage the Iranian nuclear accord and reduce tensions in the Middle East after the killing of Qassem Soleimani in a US drone attack.

Tehran announced early on Monday that it would no longer abide by the uranium enrichment restrictions it agreed in 2015.

Iranian state media reported that the country’s nuclear programme will now be based solely on its “technical needs”, but it also said that the country would continue to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and it could return to the deal if sanctions are lifted and its interests are respected.

Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, told a daily press conference on Monday that Iran had been forced to end its commitment due to external factors but had showed restraint and a willingness to implement the deal so it “does not violate its [non-proliferation] obligations”.

The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is “an important pillar” for global nuclear non-proliferation and peace and stability for the Middle East, Geng said.

He also called for all sides in the deal to remain calm and to “stick to political and diplomatic solutions” to avoid further escalation.

“The global community should bear in mind the general and long-term picture, firmly maintain the deal and push for the de-escalation of the Iran nuclear and Middle East situation,” Geng said.

“China will continue to maintain close communication and coordination with all related parties, and will take relentless efforts.”

Trump warns US could strike cultural sites in Iran

Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force was killed on Friday in US drone strike on a convoy near the Baghdad airport. It also killed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a key Iraq militia leader.

Iran has promised to take revenge while Donald Trump hit back with a threat to attack 52 Iranian targets, including cultural sites.

On Sunday night the Iraqi parliament also passed a non-binding resolution effectively calling for the withdrawal of US and other foreign troops.

The vote provoked Trump to threaten to demand that Iraq pay the US billions of dollars to cover the cost of a US airbase in the country on pain of heavy sanctions.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing would continue to work to de-escalate the situation. Photo: Handout

Wang Jin, an associate professor with the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies at Northwest University in Xian, said Iran’s announcement would send “a very dangerous signal” that could lead to “misjudgments and misunderstandings”.

“International intervention and mediation is urgently needed,” he said.

Wang also said that Iran had been more transparent than India and North Korea over its nuclear programme and by signalling its willingness to cooperate with the international community there had not been a “complete falling out”.

Defiant Trump doubles down on Iran targets

“It hopes that international communities can intervene,” Wang continued. “Amid the current tensions, there has been no official communication channel between Iran and the US, therefore a third party is needed to play a part,” said Wang.

“What China can do is to mediate and push for dialogue, and offer the conditions for it. But we cannot play a bigger role. China is willing to do, but we don’t have strong influence there.”

The nuclear deal was struck between Iran, the US, the EU, France, Germany, the UK, Russia and China in 2015. Under the deal, Iran agreed to restrict its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.

Iran’s announcement on Monday was the final step in its scaling down of its commitments after the US unilaterally withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions.

Dong Manyuan, deputy director of the China Institute of International Studies, said Tehran’s announcement was also designed to put pressure on the Europeans to make a serious move.

“The window of opportunity to ease tension in the region is not completely closed yet,” Dong said.

“China can play a role by mediating and promoting conversation. It is not easy and there will be setbacks, but it is worth doing,” he said.

Chinese embassy in US issues safety warning

In a phone talk with his Iranian counterpart on Friday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China will “play a constructive role” in maintaining peace and stability in the Gulf region.

He also told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that both countries should jointly “play a responsible role” in handling the situation.

Lavrov said that Russia and China “share the same position”, according to a statement posted by China’s foreign ministry on its website last Friday.

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