Javad Zarif says Tehran will show ‘maximum restraint’ as Washington maintains its own ‘maximum pressure’ campaign.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has urged “friends”, including China and Russia, to take “concrete action” to safeguard the 2015 nuclear deal following the United States‘s decision to tighten sanctions on Tehran after exiting the agreement last year.
During a meeting with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing on Friday, Zarif said: “Iran and China need to think together and work together about preserving a multilateral global order and avoiding a unilateral global order.”
Zarif’s meeting with State Councillor Wang Yi was part of an intense diplomatic effort to salvage the 2015 deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The landmark pact, negotiated between Iran and six world powers, offered Tehran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear programme. But it increasingly appears to be in danger of unravelling with the US reinstating sanctions and moving to choke off Iran’s oil exports by scrapping waivers it had granted to big buyers of the country’s crude oil, including China.
US-Iran tensions escalated further last week when Washington deployed warships and bombers to the Middle East, citing unspecified threats from Tehran.
Wang told Zarif that China resolutely opposes the sanctions imposed by the US, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement. He also said Beijing supported Tehran in safeguarding its legitimate rights and understood its situation.
Speaking before his meeting with Wang, Zarif said the international community has so far “mainly made statements instead of saving” the nuclear deal.
“If the international community and other JCPOA member countries, and our friends in the JCPOA like China and Russia, want to keep this achievement, it is required that they make sure the Iranian people enjoy the benefits of the JCPOA with concrete actions,” he said.
“The practical step is quite clear: Economic relations with Iran should be normalised. This is what the deal clearly addresses.”
Last week, Zarif said only Russia and China had supported Iran and helped it keep the nuclear deal going, and accused other parties to the agreement of letting Tehran down.
Al Jazeera correspondent Adrian Brown, reporting from Beijing, said Iran still believed China, its biggest customer for crude oil, has an enormous amount of influence to wield to salvage the JCPOA.
“China doesn’t want to be seen as deserting a strong trading partner but at the same time Beijing is in this difficult position,” said Brown, referring to the country’s ongoing trade tensions with the US.
The world’s two largest economies are locked in an increasingly acrimonious trade dispute that has seen them level escalating tariffs on each other’s imports in the midst of negotiations.
“There’s a feeling here that perhaps Chinese leaders feel they have nothing to lose by declaring their support for Iran,” added Brown.
Zarif’s China trip comes after visits to Turkmenistan, India and Japan in the past week.
Despite Washington’s campaign of “maximum pressure” against Iran, the country has vowed to keep selling oil to its main customers, especially China, even if by indirect means.
In recent days, Trump has taken a softer tone on Iran. On Wednesday, he tweeted that he expected Iran “will want to talk soon”.
And when asked if there would be a war with Iran, Trump told CNN on Thursday: “I hope not.”
Iran has rejected negotiations with the US, but said it was showing “maximum restraint”.
Imposing sanctions while seeking talks is like “pointing a gun at someone and demanding friendship”, said Iranian General Rasool Sanaeirad, according to the semi-official Mehr news agency.
On May 8, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Iran would stop observing restrictions on stocks of enriched uranium and heavy water agreed under the nuclear deal in retaliation for the US withdrawal and its reimposition of sanctions.
In his announcement, Rouhani threatened to go further if the European members of the deal failed to start delivering on their promises to help Iran circumvent US sanctions within 60 days.
In response, China called on all parties to uphold the nuclear deal in what it called a “shared responsibility”.