China asserts nuclear influence ahead of major Iran deal talks

China links nuclear non-proliferation talks to a Western Submarine Pact in the Pacific it opposes, potentially adding another obstacle to the tortured process of reaching a deal with Iran.

Beijing had already emerged as a pillar of the success or failure of talks resumed Monday in Vienna on how to restore the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and the world powers.

The decision this week by the Chinese envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency to raise Beijing’s concerns over the so-called AUKUS atomic submarine deal between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, along with international concerns over Iran’s nuclear program, suggest Chinese ambitions are increasing.

“Why are the US and UK saying Iran can’t enrich uranium more than 3.7%, while on the other hand, they plan to transfer tons of highly material. 90% enriched at AUKUS? China’s envoy to the IAEA Wang Qun said Friday. “This is an example of a double standard. “

In a memo circulated among diplomats in Vienna earlier and seen by Bloomberg, Wang argued that the AUKUS deal “poses serious risks of nuclear proliferation.” On Friday, he went further, calling Aukus a “small Anglo-Saxon clique” that could encourage more countries to go nuclear.

China said including its concerns at this week’s IAEA meeting should be the start of a new international process to review the AUKUS deal. Wang sat next to his Russian counterpart, Ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, during a rare joint briefing of the two powers. The Russian representative echoed Wang’s concern.

“China has drawn up a strategic plan for the coming years” based on more assertive diplomacy at the IAEA “with the help of its Russian ally,” said Nadia Helmy, a Cairo-based security analyst who follows Beijing’s activities in the Middle East. .

Whether China’s bet succeeds in derailing the AUKUS deal, under which Australian submarines could still be decades away, this week’s IAEA decision risks muddying the waters around talks with the United States. Iran. The Islamic Republic denies that it is seeking nuclear weapons, but fears that Iran might be a proliferation risk were the reason world powers sealed the 2015 deal.

With the world’s second-largest reserves of gas and oil, Iran is cultivating closer integration with Beijing to help replace sanctioned trade with Western economies. Tehran has joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an economic security alliance led by China and Russia in Central Asia. Iran and China have also struck a 25-year trade deal with a potential value of billions of dollars.

China suggested that it was up to the United States to take the first step to revive the 2015 deal, and said last week it had “reached a broad consensus” with Iran and Russia. on next week’s negotiations. The Islamic Republic has raised its nuclear activities beyond agreed thresholds after the administration of then-US President Donald Trump broke the deal three years ago and reimposed US sanctions.

By linking next week’s seventh round of talks in Vienna to AUKUS, Beijing is building on a little-used section of international nuclear law written at the height of the Cold War, which allows countries to potentially exempt enriched uranium international inspections.

By allowing Australia to obtain military-grade uranium to power its submarines, the UK and US are potentially opening the door for other countries to do the same, degrading the regime. global surveillance.

Iran is threatened with censorship by the IAEA because it is unable to explain the source of the decades-old uranium particles detected at undeclared facilities. In the case of AUKUS, more than a ton of bomb-grade fuel would need to be transferred to Australian submarines, which will take years to build and put into service in years, if not decades.

“There is no real concern that Australia is hijacking the material,” said Sharon Squassoni, former State Department non-proliferation adviser currently at George Washington University. “It is less a question of diverting this highly enriched fuel than another country trying to draw this box around what is not subject to inspection.”

Iran, which already produces highly enriched uranium, has suggested it could pursue nuclear submarines as well.

In international forums like the IAEA, China’s massive atomic energy program provides major diplomatic currency. The country is planning at least 150 new reactors over the next 15 years, which will cost up to $ 440 billion and propel China ahead of the United States as the world’s largest nuclear power producer.

“China mainly aims to increase its confidence in international organizations, including the IAEA, to create a new balance of power,” said Helmy, who has studied and taught at universities in China and Europe. “China is seeking to be close to the IAEA to restrict and limit American influence.”

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