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Posing Problems Without an Alliance: China-Iran Relations after the Nuclear Deal

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Journal Article

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National Defense University Washington United States

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The signing of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action JCPOA in July2015 to address international concerns about Irans nuclear programhas led to bullish predictions about the future of Sino-Iranian relations.Under the deal, Iran is expected to limit its uranium enrichment and makeother changes to its nuclear program in exchange for the removal of internationalsanctions. China is expected to be a prime beneficiary of the deal as Chinesefirms take advantage of greater access to the Iranian market, especially in theenergy sector. Some U.S. analysts also contend that the two countries could forgedeeper strategic relations as well, involving coordination designed to weakenU.S. influenceor what both states see as U.S. hegemonismin the region.Although the JCPOA will facilitate closer relations between Beijing andTehran in some areas, relations between the two will remain constrained byseveral obstacles. These include Chinas need to balance its relations with Iranagainst those with the United States and others in the region that are on poorterms with Iran, such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Turkey its hedging of geopoliticalrisk by avoiding overreliance on Iran as an energy partner and its basicdesire for a stable and peaceful Middle East, which militates against supportfor a more assertive Iranian foreign policy. Thus, despite the prospects of greaterChina-Iran economic and diplomatic cooperation, the two will likely make onlylimited progress in developing more comprehensive strategic relations.

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