Iran’s ministers are being pressed by critics in the country to reveal details of a 25-year strategic partnership deal signed with porcelana at the weekend, following accusations that Iran has sold its sovereignty.
Many analysts say the agreement is largely aspirational, but the secrecy surrounding the final version has provided a useful stick for the regime’s critics.
The government spokesperson Ali Rabiei said on Tuesday that the agreement was becoming the victim of a propaganda war and there was no legal obligation to publish it. The agreement was “not an international treaty, or agreement, and does not require parliamentary approval under this legal interpretation," él dijo.
He hinted that China was standing in the way of publication. Earlier drafts have been leaked. The Iranian parliament has insisted the treaty must be scrutinised before it is given the go-ahead.
Among the Iranian opposition, a petition has been started accusing China of signing a deal with a politically bankrupt regime. The petition likens the agreement to the treaties Iran signed with Russia – the treaties of Gulistan in 1813 and Turkmenchay in 1828 – in which Iran ceded vast tracts of the Caucuses, including Georgie, Armenia and Azerbaijan, to the Russian empire.
Videos posted on social media showed scattered peaceful protests with signs reading “Iran is not for sale”.
The deal has been presented as a route for Iran away from never-ending western sanctions. In the short term, nearly 1m barrels a day of Iranian crude could arrive in China this month, nearly half the volume that the world’s top exporter, Arabia Saudita, supplied to China in the first two months this year.
As much as 70% of China’s oil comes from abroad, and the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, proposed the strategic agreement with Iran back in January 2016, soon after Iran signed a deal with the rest of the world restricting its nuclear programme.
Detailed work on the agreement has taken two years, with the bulk of the recent drafting undertaken by Ali Larijani, a former speaker of the Iranian parliament.
Although the deal has been touted as being worth $400bn, the Chinese and the Iranian foreign ministries insist no detailed contracts have been signed, so valuations of this sort are largely worthless.
The heart of the 25-year deal is an expansion of China’s presence in Iranian banking, telecommunications, ports, railways and dozens of projects. In exchange, China would receive a regular and heavily discounted supply of Iranian oil.
Some have said the deal’s significance is being blown out of all proportion and it differs little from deals China has struck elsewhere in the Middle East.
Mojtaba Zolanuris, the chair of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy commission, said the Islamic Republic was seeking to sign similar documents with Russia.
Mohammad Javad Ghahremani, of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, admitted there was China-phobia in some Iranians. “If Beijing wants to expand its relations with Iran, Chinese officials must be sensitive to the issue of Iranians’ historical pessimism about foreign governments. This historical pessimism has played a major role in distancing itself from the United States under the current situation.”
Other Iranian analysts hailed the agreement as a political disaster for the US, as it has been a past article of faith among American strategists that the US must never find itself aligned against Russia and China simultaneously.
By coincidence it has been reported that the US president, Joe Biden, is prepared to make a new offer to Iran this week whereby he will lift some sanctions in return for Iran taking specific limited steps to come back into compliance with the nuclear agreement, including reducing the level to which it enriches uranium.