The United Nations arms embargo against Iran expired on Sunday, despite strenuous objections from the United States. Iran claimed it had no intention of going on a “buying spree” for military hardware, but there are signs Tehran intends to resume both importing and exporting weapons on a massive scale.
The Trump administration vowed to do everything it can to restrain the Iranian arms trade.
An exclusive report published by OilPrice.com on Monday said China and Iran will begin implementing a 25-year arms deal next month, with China helping Iran to obtain weapons that might include North Korean military technology in exchange for Iran selling China its oil.
According to the report, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on October 8 and 9 to finalize a massive secret arms deal. Sources “very close to the Iranian government” said Tehran is interested in obtaining North Korea’s Hwasong-12 ballistic missile, which has a range of 4,500 kilometers, and wants help develop its own liquid-propellant rocket engines for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Defense analysts widely believe North Korea has already given Iran a considerable amount of help with its missile programs, in exchange for payment in oil.
The report suggested Iran might want those North Korean missiles to use as bargaining chips in a revived nuclear and missile deal with the West. Once in Iran’s hands, the missiles could be upgraded to increase their range and make them even greater threats, which Iran would use as leverage to extract more concessions from the U.S. and Europe to give them up.
North Korea and Iran have longstanding arms trade, with a special focus on missile technology beginning in the 1990s. In recent years Iran developed an interest in North Korean submarine technology, developing a fleet of minisubs based on North Korean designs that can threaten shipping in the Persian Gulf. Pyongyang has a reciprocal interest in Iran’s drone technology. North Korea’s celebration of the 75th birthday of the ruling Workers’ Party in October included a salute to Iran’s development of improved submarine-launched missiles and advanced air defense radar systems.
The Council on Foreign Relations pointed out in October that North Korea is one of the poorest countries on Earth, but it spends fully a quarter of its Gross Domestic Product on its military, including development programs for ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. Collaboration with China, Iran, and Pakistan greatly assisted North Korea’s weapons development. Sales of weapons and technology are an important way for the North Korean regime to obtain much-needed oil, foreign currency, and materials for its nuclear missile program.
China has been working on establishing a digital currency system that would allow it to do business with Iran in defiance of U.S. sanctions – essentially a massive electronic money-laundering system that would allow huge sums to flow between China, North Korea, Iran, and other rogue regimes without giving American investigators any clear transactions it could cite as justifications for punishment via sanctions. Boosters of China’s Digital Currency Electronic Payment system (DCEP) expect it to challenge Bitcoin as the world’s most popular cryptocurrency as Chinese citizens living around the world rush to embrace it, although skeptics note there is little reason to believe the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would not manipulate the currency to suit its policy goals or use the DCEP system to spy on users.
The Jerusalem Post reported on Monday that Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami expects massive arms exports from Iran to resume as well, now that the U.N. embargo has been lifted. Weapons sales represent a major new source of income for the cash-strapped regime, and it could use the profits from sales of its existing inventory to buy powerful new weapons from China and North Korea.
“We are a significant power in the field of missiles. In the field of land, we have all defense items from tanks to artillery, mortars, anti-tank weapons and vehicles for sale,” Hatami told prospective customers in remarks broadcast by Iranian state media.
“We are one of the world’s leading powers in the field of UAVs, and in the field of navy, we build all kinds of vessels, [including] submarines, and arm them at the level of great powers,” he continued, sounding like a hellish parody of a used-car salesman. The defense minister also touted Iran’s radar and air-defense systems.
The Jerusalem Post added that Iran is “closely watching the Azerbaijan military clashes with Armenia to see how drones with missiles and loitering munitions, a kind of kamikaze drone, function against tanks.”
“Iran wants to improve its loitering munitions and armed-drone arm, which it already vastly expanded in the last several years. Baku’s use of drones likely impresses Iran and will lead to it confirming its investment in drones and missiles instead of tanks,” the JPost wrote.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that the United States rejects the expiration of the U.N. arms embargo and will do everything it can to punish nations that supply weapons to Iran.
“No nation that desires a peaceful Middle East should contemplate arms sales with Iran,” Pompeo said. “We are prepared to use domestic authorities to sanction individuals or entities contributing to these arms sales.”