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The “2022 Marine Security Belt” exercise will take place in the north of the Indian Ocean and is the third joint naval drill between the three countries since 2019, according to Mostafa Tajoldin speaking to Reuters. Naval forces from the three powers are due to take part in a range of drills, which reportedly involve tactical exercises such as rescuing a burning vessel, releasing a hijacked vessel and shooting air targets at night.
“The purpose of this drill is to strengthen security and its foundations in the region, and to expand multilateral cooperation between the three countries to jointly support world peace, maritime security and create a maritime community with a common future,” the Iranian official told ISNA.
The three countries have been moving closer together since Iran’s new hardline president Ebrahim Raisi took office last August. President Raisi has pursued a “look east” policy to strengthen ties with China and Russia in the face of increasing political and economic pressure from the United States and other western countries.
Iran’s leader met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin on Wednesday in a bid to forge “sustainable and comprehensive relations”, according to Iran state media.
President Raisi earlier described the trip as a potential “turning point” in relations with “our friend” Russia. “We have common interests which can help strengthen security in the region and prevent unilateralism [by the US],” he said.
President Putin has previously boasted of a possible military alliance between Moscow, Beijing and Tehran, sparking concern within western countries of a potentially dangerous power alliance.
Speaking to Express.co.uk last year, Chair of the Defence Select Committee Tobias Ellwood said stronger relations between Beijing and Moscow should come as no surprise, and Tehran’s entry into the group could form a “devastating trio”.
Iran has been strengthening military and trade ties with China and Russia in recent years.
Military vessels from China and Russia took part in a joint naval exercise last October.
Mr Ellwood said: “Russia and China are not natural allies, but it’s because they have a common enemy now. Their troops are now exercising together so they are learning each other’s protocols and communicate with each other.
“I think what will happen is Russia will want to remain valued – its economy is the size of Italy and it is suffering because of its military budget. The only way it can sustain this is by somehow, over the next few decades, sliding in behind China.”
In another show of strengthening ties between the three countries, Iran joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in September, a central Asian security body led by China and Russia. Tehran used its entry into the group to call on its fellow members, which include nine countries such as India and Pakistan, to help it avert western sanctions.
Russia and China are parties to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal between Iran and other world powers including the United Kingdom and United States under which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions.
The United States abandoned the deal under former president Donald Trump, who pulled out in 2018 and slapped unilateral financial sanctions on the country which have crippled its economy.
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Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin met via video link in December 2021.
Iran has carried out a number of military launches during military exercises in recent months.
Negotiations to revive the deal resumed last year after President Joe Biden took office in January and brought US negotiators back to the table. However, as six months of talks in Vienna prepare to wrap up in less than two weeks, no agreement has been reached over how to check Iran’s nuclear programme which has expanded rapidly since Mr Trump ripped up the deal.
Under the accord, Iran’s nuclear programme is being watched by a group of world powers known as the P5+1, which includes the UK, France, China, Russia, Germany and the US. Iran has been enriching uranium that can be used for nuclear weapons, which is a key concern within the international community.
The UK met with Iranian officials at the talks in Vienna in December to try to resurrect the deal that would require Iran to stop enriching uranium and allow international inspectors on the ground to assess the progress of its nuclear programme.
President Raisi vehemently opposes the western sanctions, which he has compared to terrorism. In a speech to SCO members, he said: “Nothing can stop Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities that are within the framework of international regulations. Diplomacy is only effective when all parties adhere to it. Threats and pressure tie diplomacy’s hands and render it ineffective.”
Iran, Russia and China signed a nuclear “consensus” in November last year while talks between Iran and the US to revive the 2015 deal floundered, in a clear show of unity against western powers.
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Iran’s rapidly expanding nuclear programme has caused international concern.
Russia has said it supports Tehran’s call for the scrapping of all sanctions that violate the 2015 deal and a guarantee against future US withdrawal.
Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian also visited Beijing last week for the first time since President Raisi took office.
China has been Iran’s top trading partner since 2014 and the biggest buyer of Tehran’s crude oil exports, providing a vital lifeline for the country’s economic growth and survival in recent years.
Mr Amirabdollahian and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi met to launch a $400 billion deal forged between the two countries in 2020. The 25-year security and economic cooperation agreement will see China invest in sectors across Iran’s economy, spanning finance to infrastructure, and closer military ties between the two powers.
China has consistently opposed US sanctions against Beijing. Speaking after the visit, Mr Wang said: “China firmly opposes illegal unilateral sanctions against Iran, political manipulation on human rights and other issues, and gross interference in the internal affairs of Iran and other regional countries.”
Trade between Iran and Russia has also risen in recent months, with some politicians in Iran suggesting a long-term agreement could be reached between the two countries similar to the deal recently brokered with China.