It should be recalled here that the UN sanctions against Iran were largely lifted in 2015, following an agreement to suspend Tehran’s nuclear program. The agreement was signed by Iran, as well as the six countries of the United States, China, Russia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
At the same time, shortly after Donald Trump became President of the United States, Washington’s position on the nuclear deal also changed, calling for a major overhaul. In 2018, when it became clear that none of the other signatories supported the change, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the agreement.
One of the clauses of the 2015 agreement also stipulates that the UN embargo on conventional weapons imposed by Iran in 2007 will no longer apply after 18 October this year. In practice, this means that after that date, international law will no longer prevent Tehran from selling or, above all, already buying arms and armaments. Needless to say, Chinese and especially Russian armaments manufacturers are going to take this opportunity, and Europeans have no claims against participating in this celebration of life and business.
The main thing is not the economic, but the geopolitical factor. The United States has no reason to seek the overthrow of the Iranian Ayatollah regime, nor in the form of regional allies Israel and Sunni Muslim countries. The growing influence of China and Russia in the Middle East and their support for Tehran are, of course, an additional impetus for Washington’s commitment.
In the case of Europe, too, the economy does not play a key role. Significantly more Europeans are interested in preventing political turmoil in Tehran, which also means a new wave of instability in the region and refugee flows at Europe’s borders. In China and Russia, on the other hand, Tehran has the status of a potential ally, if not an existing one, and the policy is appropriate.
Because of all these contradictions, the UN Security Council in August this year strongly rejected US efforts to re-establish the arms embargo on Iran, but other signatories to the nuclear deal refused to re-impose UN sanctions, rightly pointing out that the US decide on matters relating to this document.
At the same time, despite all the domestic and international challenges, Washington still lacks the leverage to suppress Europe’s desire to oppose its decisions in particular, including through secondary or indirect sanctions. China and Russia are nowhere near as invulnerable as they might seem, and the outcome of this confrontation is far from clear.