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Arms embargo on Iran expires despite US opposition | Middle East



Tehran, Iran – Despite opposition from the United States, a long-standing conventional arms embargo imposed on Iran has expired in line with the terms of a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, according to the Iranian foreign ministry.

The 13-year ban imposed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) came to an end on Sunday as part of Resolution 2231 of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an accord signed in 2015 that gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

In a statement carried by state media, the Iranian foreign ministry said “as of today, all restrictions on the transfer of arms, related activities and financial services to and from the Islamic Republic of Iran … are all automatically terminated.”

The end of the embargo means Iran will legally be able to buy and sell conventional arms, including missiles, helicopters and tanks, and the Iranian foreign ministry said the country can now “procure any necessary arms and equipment from any source without any legal restrictions, and solely based on its defensive needs”.

However, Iran was self-reliant in its defense, the statement said, adding that “unconventional arms, weapons of mass destruction and a buying spree of conventional arms have no place” in the country’s defense doctrine.

The US unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA in May 2018, imposing waves of harsh economic sanctions on Iran. US President Donald Trump’s administration has also employed every means in its power to unravel the nuclear deal and stop the lifting of the arms embargo on Iran.

The latest came in early October when 18 Iranian banks were blacklisted, including those that process humanitarian trade transactions – effectively severing Iran’s financial sector from the global economy.

The US administration has been fervently supported in its efforts by Israel and a number of Arab countries that oppose Iran’s expanding regional influence.

In August, the US tabled a UNSC resolution to indefinitely extend the arms embargo, but it was rejected.

From the 14 UNSC member states, the so-called E3 of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, and eight others abstained while Russia and China opposed the extension. Only the Dominican Republic supported the resolution.

After announcing the triggering of a process to “snap back” sanctions on Iran and waiting for a month, the US in September announced it has unilaterally reinstated all UN sanctions on Iran that were lifted as part of Resolution 2231.

If implemented, the move would automatically extend the arms embargo as well.

But an overwhelming majority of UNSC member states once more rejected the bid, saying no process to reinstate sanctions was started because the move had no legal basis.

The US threatened “consequences” for countries that do not adhere to its assertion but has yet to take action.

In trying to indefinitely extend the arms embargo on Iran, the US claims the lifting of the embargo will open a floodgate of arms deals that would quickly serve to further destabilise the region.

EU embargoes on conventional arms exports and missile technology are still in place and will remain in force until 2023.

The foreign ministers of the E3 in July issued a joint statement that said while the three countries remain committed to fully implementing Resolution 2231, they believe the lifting of the arms embargo “would have major implications for regional security and stability”.

Russia and China

In practice, it might take some time for Iran to be able to utilise the freedom from the embargo.

For one, relentless US sanctions have significantly restricted Iran’s ability to buy advanced systems, whose purchase and maintenance could cost billions of dollars.

Furthermore, China and Russia, or any other country pondering arms sales to Iran, would act based on their foreign policy interests, which would have to consider the balance of power and future economic interests in the Gulf and the wider region.

Iran and China have been considering a major 25-year strategic partnership deal, the details of which have yet to be published.

According to Tong Zhao, a senior fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, the deal has already caused international scrutiny, so China, which wants to demonstrate the image of a “responsible power”, will tread carefully.

“More importantly, if [Joe] Biden is elected the new US president – which seems increasingly likely – Beijing would want to reboot the US-China relationship with a new US administration,” he told Al Jazeera.

In this vein, Zhao said it would be unlikely for Beijing to jeopardise the opportunity to mend ties with a Biden administration by making huge arms deals with Tehran.

As for Russia, a 2019 US Defense Intelligence Agency report speculated Iran would buy Su-30 fighters, Yak-130 trainers, T-90 tanks, Bastion mobile coastal defence missile systems, and the S-400 surface-to-air missile defence systems.

Iranian Defence Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami travelled to Russia in late August to visit the International Military-Technical Forum Army-2020 and hold talks with senior Russian officials. The trip boosted speculations Iran is interested in Russian arms.

However, Nicole Grajewski, a research fellow with the International Security Program at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, says there is no indication Russia and Iran have finalised a list of potential arms for negotiations.

“It is not totally unfounded to suggest that Russia and Iran may wait until the US presidential elections,” she told Al Jazeera. “Both sides have reasons not to antagonise Biden if he is elected: Iran with the JCPOA and Russia with New START.”

New START is an arms reduction treaty and the last existing nuclear arms control pact between Russia and the US that expires in February. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday called for a one-year extension of the pact.

Moreover, Grajewski pointed out that while the Trump administration has been inconsistent in implementing provisions of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), Russia will take US sanctions into account – especially since Moscow would like to sell weapons to states that could become subject to secondary US sanctions.

But she believes financing to be the biggest impediment to a potential major Iran-Russia arms deal.

“Russia won’t be as willing as China to sell Iran weapons on barter like it did in the 1990s,” Grajewski said. “Plus, Russia doesn’t want to damage its relations with the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Israel by providing Iran with high-tech or advanced weapons.”

But the researcher believes Iran and Russia may enjoy a boost in military cooperation and contacts that have increased in the past few years due to shared interests in Syria and a general improvement in bilateral relations.

“There will likely be additional military exchanges and drills in addition to an increase in efforts that promote the interoperability between the Russian and Iranian armed forces at the tactical level,” she said.

Iran’s perspective

Following the implementation of the nuclear deal in 2016, Russia completed delivery of the S-300 air defence missile system to Iran, which was successfully tested by Iran in early 2017.

This finally concluded an $800m deal signed between the two states in 2007 that was left unfulfilled by Russia after multilateral sanctions pressure on Iran grew.

But by that time, a lot had changed inside Iran.

As Iranian defence expert Hossein Dalirian explains, after years of multilateral and unilateral sanctions, Iran concluded it has to rely on the expertise of its own engineers and experts to boost defence capabilities.

“With this perspective, extensive efforts were launched inside Iran to develop a diverse range of advanced arms and systems that are now produced locally, which are on par with those of developed nations, even as attested by military experts of Iran’s enemies,” he told Al Jazeera.

Among others, these include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and the Bavar-373 surface-to-air missile defence system, which was officially rolled out in August 2019, and which Iran says is on par with the state-of-the-art Russian S-400 system.

However, Dalirian said, it has not been possible, or economically feasible, for Iran to produce a number of armaments, including fifth-generation fighter jets.

“Even though Iranian experts have recently achieved technological know-how to produce fighter jet parts, and built Kowsar, which is on par with fourth-generation fighter jets, it seems that purchasing fighter jets might be pursued by Iran at the same time as locally developing modern fighter jets,” he said.

Dalirian says many countries have shown interest in Iranian armaments, but have been unable to buy them due to sanctions.

“Now it remains to be seen what Iran’s enemies, specifically the US, have planned for potential buyers of Iranian arms in political terms,” he said.

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Italian PM Conte wins confidence vote before tougher Senate test | Italy News



Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has won a crucial confidence vote in Parliament’s lower house, hanging on to power after a junior partner quit his coalition and sparked a political crisis amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Conte lost his coalition majority last week with the defection of cabinet ministers belonging to former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s small but key Italia Viva party, a decision that followed weeks of criticism of the government’s economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following an appeal to opposition and non-aligned lawmakers for “clear backing”, Conte’s government won on Monday the lower-house vote by 321 to 259, a wider-than-expected margin that gave it an absolute majority in the 629-seat chamber.

Conte will face a tougher test on Tuesday in the upper house Senate, where the government had only a slim majority even when Italia Viva was still part of the coalition.

Conte insists his coalition, formed in September 2019 and comprising mainly the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and populist Five Star Movement (M5S), could carry on without Renzi. But even if the government survives in terms of numbers in Parliament, Renzi’s party pullout last week highlighted the coalition’s fragility.

Renzi has long criticised Conte’s handling of the pandemic, from the months-long closure of high schools to support for small businesses threatened with closure.

Conte, a former law professor who has never himself been elected, told Parliament his government had acted with the “utmost care”, taking “decisive action” where needed.

New measures were introduced on Sunday, with shops and restaurants shut and residents urged to stay at home in a number of regions.

Italy has been among the European nations worst-affected by the pandemic and is one of the main beneficiaries of a 750 billion-euro ($906bn) European Union economic recovery fund.

But Renzi has accused the government of wasting the opportunity, judging its 220 billion-euro ($266bn) plan for EU funds too focused on vote-winning handouts instead of addressing long-term structural issues. He has also been calling for Italy to make use of the eurozone’s rescue fund – the European Stability Mechanism – a move fiercely resisted by the M5S, which fears it would bring with it tough conditions on public spending.

Conte amended the recovery plan following Renzi’s criticisms, but the Italia Viva politician said Monday it was “still not working”.

Opinion polls suggest if the current turmoil leads to snap elections, a right-wing coalition including the anti-immigration, anti-European League party would take power.

Conte urged legislators from “the highest European tradition – liberal, popular and socialist” to support the government.

“Did we always take the best decisions? Everyone can make their evaluations,” Conte told the lower house. “For my part, I can say the government worked with the utmost care and attention for the delicate balances, including constitutional ones,” while keeping in mind the heavy implications for Italians.

Former Prime Minister Matteo withdrew his party from the governing coalition [Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters]

The prime minister expressed perplexity at the political crisis for which he saw “no plausible basis” at a moment when the pandemic, which has killed more than 82,000 people in the country, was “still in full course”.

He said the developments in Rome had provoked “deep dismay” in the country when the priority should be fighting the virus and relaunching the economy.

During the debate, Conte conceded one point of contention, saying he would give up the secret services portfolio. But he also made clear it would be hard to mend fences with Renzi, who has faced harsh criticism for the power play during the pandemic.

“We can’t forget what has happened, and you can’t think of regaining the climate of trust,” Conte said.

Italia Viva Member of Parliament Ivan Scalfarotto accused Conte of setting up too many task forces during the pandemic, and not taking enough action.

Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Rome, said many in the country were seemingly against the prospect of early elections at a time when “the country is trying deal with coronavirus with a fresh lockdown”.

Conte, a lawyer by training, hailed for his mediation skills, was tapped by M5S to run the government after an indecisive 2018 election led to a governing coalition of the party with a right-wing group led by League party leader Matteo Salvini.

That government fell when Salvini, then interior minister, mounted a failed power grab.

Conte was able to form a new government with the support of the PD, which at the time also included Renzi, who later defected from the party he once ran.

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