TEHRAN – After more than a decade of international restrictions on arms trade, Iran broke free from a UN arms embargo that has long hampered its defense cooperation with countries around the world.
The 13-year old UN arms embargo on Iran expired on October 18 in accordance with the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2231 which was unanimously adopted by the Security Council in 2015 to endorse a landmark nuclear deal with Iran. According to the deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the UN arms embargo was scheduled to automatically expire in five years after the Adoption Day of the JCPOA on October 17, 2015. The planned lifting of the UN arms embargo took place a few days ago. Despite the firm opposition of the U.S., on October 18, 2020, Iran officially announced the lifting of the UN Arms embargo.
“As of today, all restrictions on the transfer of arms, related activities and financial services to and from the Islamic Republic of Iran, and all prohibitions regarding the entry into or transit through territories of the United Nations Member States previously imposed on a number of Iranian citizens and military officials, are all automatically terminated,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on October 18, calling the lifting of the arms embargo a “momentous day for the international community, which in defiance of the U.S. regime’s efforts, has protected UN Security Council Resolution 2231” and the JCPOA.
The arms embargo was one of the most complicated issues that turned the nuclear negotiations with Iran into a shouting match, according to Seyed Abbas Araghchi, the deputy foreign minister of Iran for political affairs. Araghchi, who played a crucial role in the nuclear negotiations, has recently said the Western nuclear negotiators refused to discuss the arms embargo by saying that the arms sanctions have nothing to do with the nuclear sanctions, but Iran insisted on the lifting of the arms embargo during the negotiations.
“This issue was ongoing from the early days of the negotiations until the last moments,” Araghchi said of the UN arms embargo, adding that during the nuclear talks, two foreign ministers were insisting that the arms restrictions should be removed in ten years, not five years but Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif held a “stormy meeting” with them that led to the foreign ministers agreeing to a five-year timeframe.
In an opinion piece published by the Khorasan daily, Araghchi said, “Due to Dr. Zarif’s furious tone of voice and his shouts, Ms. Sherman asked her colleagues to leave the room and leave the foreign ministers alone. The report of that meeting is one of the memorable documents in the history of Iran’s diplomacy.”
Iran’s insistence on the lifting of the UN arms embargo derives from a belief that it has great potential in terms of engaging in legal arms Trade. Iran has much to offer. Of course, Iran could sell and buy some arms even before the expiration of the arms embargo but now that the embargo has officially come to an end, it can engage in legal arms trade with countries around the world without fearing the wrath of the international community.
Now the question is that who will sell arms to Iran and will Iran itself sell its own arms? Until now, there are no official arms deals with Iran but it seems that Iran is busy hammering out such deals with its allies, especially Russia and China.
Following the expiration of the arms embargo, Kazem Jalali, Iran’s ambassador to Russia, said on Saturday that Iran and Russia have devised a plan to boost their military cooperation.
In an interview with the Russian Interfax news agency, the ambassador said, “We will certainly cooperate with interested countries in the fields of technical-military cooperation and the procurement of the necessary equipment. We will have no restrictions and we will take advantage of this issue prudently.”
Jalali was responding to a question on whether Iran would buy arms after the expiration of the UN arms embargo.
According to Jalali, Tehran and Moscow have prepared a plan concerning military cooperation.
“With respect to the military cooperation, I should say that we have devised a plan in this regard, and, God willing, these plans will be implemented over time,” the ambassador pointed out.
Iran’s Defense Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami has also echoed Tehran’s willingness to strengthen defense cooperation with Russia and China.
“The end of the arms restrictions gives us the opportunity to import necessary weapons and export our own weapons,” the defense minister said in an interview with Aljazeera.
China and Russia are expected to be the main partners of Iran in case it moves forward with its plans to update its defense capabilities. Over the past decades, Iran has made great strides in strengthening some of its defense capabilities, especially its missile and drone arsenal.
However, Iran may still need to update its air force. Due to the decades-long arms sanctions, Iran has been unable to buy fighter jets and combat helicopters as well as other military equipment. So, now that the UN arms embargo has been lifted, Iran may move to buy fighter jets from Russia and/or China. At the official level, Iran has not given any details about its possible deals to buy fighter jets but the defense minister has implied that Iran may have already reached deals with China and Russia in this regard.
Hatami noted that Tehran has reached “important deals” with Moscow and Beijing to develop its air force but he did not disclose what these deals include.
“We have important deals with Russia and China aimed at developing our air force systems in the post-arms embargo period,” Hatami stated.
On the other hand, Russia and China expressed willingness to deepen their defense cooperation with Iran.
Following the expiration of the arms embargo, Russia said it will move forward with military cooperation with Iran, and China announced that UNSCR 2231 Resolution, which highlights the lifting of the UN arms embargo, should be “faithfully implemented”.
Sergey Ryabkov, the deputy foreign minister of Russia, has recently said Moscow is not afraid of the U.S. restrictions on Iran and will continue the military cooperation with it.
“Russia is not afraid of U.S. sanctions because it is accustomed to them,” the Russian TASS news agency quoted Ryabkov as saying on Sunday.
He added, “Russia is developing multi-aspect cooperation with Iran and cooperation in the military-technical sphere will proceed depending on needs of the parties and mutual readiness to [move forward with] such cooperation in a calm fashion.”
Similarly, China also underlined the need to implement UNSCR 2231, which means that China is committed to the lifting of the UN arms embargo.
“Security Council Resolution 2231 has clear stipulation of lifting the restrictive measures like the arms embargo against Iran, which should be faithfully implemented,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in response to a question on whether China is willing to sell arms to Iran.
Speaking at a press conference on October 19, the spokesperson noted, “Following our policy on the export of military articles and our international obligations, China will continue handling arms trade in a prudent manner.”
Zhao also said the U.S. threat to impose sanctions on anyone selling arms to Iran “makes no sense,” adding, “China opposes unilateral sanctions imposed by the U.S.”
Resolution 2231 makes clear arrangements for lifting the arms embargo against Iran and other restrictive measures, which should be implemented accurately, according to Zhao.
Aside from the Chinese and Russian weapons that may be sold to Iran, arms trade after the expiration of the arms embargo may expand beyond selling arms to Iran because Iran itself is now able to sell its own arms. Hatami said Iran will sell more weapons than it will purchase.
“Since a year ago, many countries came to us and we had discussions with them,” the defense minister noted, Tasnim reported. “The ground for selling and buying weapons is prepared for the Islamic Republic of Iran, but of course, the sales will be more.”
Iran has a long list of weapons, especially missiles, many countries seek to purchase. Analysts believe that some Iranian missiles and drones enjoy higher quality than the American ones and are also less expensive. Therefore, buyers may find the Iranian arms more affordable.
In addition, Western countries may also buy certain weapons from Iran directly or indirectly to analyze them in a bid to gauge the progress Iran made in developing domestically-made arms.