30.03.2021 Author: James ONeill

More at Stake for Iran and China than just a Trade Deal


After several years of negotiation, the China-Iran agreement has finally been signed. It provides for a multi-billion-dollar investment in Iran by China over the next 25 years. In signing the agreement, China has unequivocally expressed to the world in general and the United States in particular that it is totally unimpressed by the current United States attitude towards Iran, and in particular by the United States’ disregard of the agreement reached several years ago by the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany and the European Union over Iran’s “nuclear program”.

In examining what is currently happening in Iran it is important to recall the history that helps us understand why the United States takes the view that it does, and why the new Biden administration is not in any great rush to re-join the deal on the grounds that it was originally signed.

The history is especially relevant to understanding the present situation. It goes back at least until 1953 when the democratically elected government of Mohamad Mossadegh was overthrown by a United States – United Kingdom coup upset at Mossadegh’s policy of nationalising the production of Iranians oil so that the profits from that production accrued to the Iranian people.

The United States – United Kingdom coup saw the democratically elected government of Iran replaced by the Shah who ruled Iran for the next 26 years until replaced by the Islamic revolution of 1979. That autocratic body has ruled the country ever since.

At the time of the Islamic revolution, the American embassy members were held hostage. That treatment did nothing to endear the Iranian leadership to the Americans whose hostility to the regime has been apparent ever since. That hostility manifested itself during the Iran-Iraq war which broke out in 1980 and continued for the next eight years. Apart from Syria and Libya the Iranians were alone in that fight, which took at least 1 million lives. Some estimates put the casualty list at twice that number.

One of the ironies of the war was that the Iraqis were supported by the Americans, the support that evaporated when the Iraqis invaded Kuwait in 1990. The cessation of that war, with the forced withdrawal of the Iraqis, was followed by restrictions upon Iraq that by some estimates killed half a million children. Their fate was infamously described as “worth it” by then United States secretary of state Madeline Albright.

Iraq was later invaded in 2002 by the younger George Bush and 19 years later the Americans are still there. Like their Australian colleagues, they simply ignored a resolution of the Iraqi parliament that all foreign troops should leave the country.

Iran has not been directly invaded, but it has been the subject of unrelenting pressure from both the Israelis and the Americans. That reached a pinnacle in January 2020 when the Iranians general Qasem Solemani was assassinated at Baghdad airport while returning from a diplomatic mission. The drone attack killed several other members of his party. The then United States president Donald Trump posted about the assassination. It is a measure of the weakness of some areas of international law that he should escape unscathed for ordering such an illegal attack that killed several people.

It was the same Donald Trump that exited the United States from the settlement of the Iranian dispute signed by the other members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany. Trump greatly increased the pressure on the Iranians government by ratcheting up sanctions. Those sanctions are intended to dissuade Iran from its present support for the Syrian government. That support is given at the request of the Syrian government that has been fighting a decade long war against American backed insurgents.

It is a measure of the United States’ disregard for international law that not only does it illegally occupy Syrian territory, and provide support for the anti-government forces fighting the Syrian government, it is blatantly stealing Syrian oil and selling it for its own benefit. As with its continued occupation of Iraq, the Americans are impervious to international law, acting as an out of control rogue nation, impervious to the legitimate demands of the sovereign Iraqi government.

This then was the context within which China has signed its trade deal with Iran. The Chinese have obviously decided that the legal sanctions imposed by the United States are no longer to be tolerated.

Iran has joined the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and fulfils an important role in the shipment of Chinese goods to the Middle East and beyond. One has only to look at a map to see the geographical importance of Iran to the whole region.

Not the least of Iran’s geographical importance is the common border it shares with both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Iran has long given sanctuary to over 1 million refugees from Afghanistan. It has also suffered an ongoing problem with heroin addiction, a direct result of its proximity to Afghanistan and that countries production of approximately 90% of the worlds heroin supply.

Almost entirely missing from the western media discussions about the alleged withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan is what will happen to the United States/CIA controlled heroin production and distribution that is such an important source of “off the books” CIA income.

The former United States president Donald Trump had declared an intention to vacate US troops from Afghanistan by May of this year. This is a plan that is now under serious question and it is highly unlikely that his successor Joe Biden will honour that pledge.

Not only does Afghanistan share multiple borders with countries that are less than friendly to the United States, but which the United States wishes to influence, the great unspoken reason for US reluctance to leave the country they have occupied now for nearly 20 years, is that the CIA will lose its control of heroin production and with it a major source of unofficial income.

China, which also shares a border with Afghanistan has an equal interest in curbing the flow of heroin across its border. Part of the Iran – China deal now signed will undoubtably deal with the response of both countries to this pernicious trade. The Chinese have vivid memories of the way heroin was used in the past as a major mechanism of social control over the population by the British to ever wish to see a repetition.

The new deal signed between China and Iran will undoubtedly address this issue. For both countries there is much more at stake than merely a trade deal. One could expect more pressure on the Afghans as a consequence.

James O’Neill, an Australian-based former Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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