For instance, Russia and China could ramp up trades, sell airliners/railway-locomotives, invest in Iran's energy/rail/infrastructure sector, and so on when there were no visible competitor from the West. Yet, they never tried those options.

Why did Russia and China never show any serious intention to ease up US sanctions on Iran?

  • They are buying oil, I believe.
    – chirlu
    Sep 13, 2018 at 17:32
  • They are signing more treaties and business contracts
    – Larry Lo
    Sep 13, 2018 at 18:02
  • One would think that if China/Russia were busy buying oil, they might be inclined to help Iran with the sanctions as potential inducement to get a better deal on oil. So it ought to have pushed them towards helping Iran rather than siding with the USA on sanctions.
    – user21424
    Sep 13, 2018 at 18:20
  • 1
    This question makes an assumption that Iran wants to buy airliners/railways from Russia and China. Is there evidence that they do?
    – user4012
    Sep 13, 2018 at 18:32
  • 1
    @puppetsock I don't agree with your argument. Sanctions reduce your potential customer base, which lowers demand for your product, which lowers prices. If anything, sanctions by another country make the sanctioned country more desperate, and likely willing to give a better deal to find a potential trading partner not affected by such sanctions.
    – C. Helling
    Sep 13, 2018 at 22:08

2 Answers 2


In 2012, Iran significantly stepped up their nuclear enrichment program, and denied IAEA inspectors access to Iranian nuclear facilities. (Source). In response, the US and Europe stepped up economic sanctions against Iran and cut Iran off from the global banking system. The United States imposed an arms ban and an almost total economic embargo on Iran, which includes sanctions on companies doing business with Iran, a ban on all Iranian-origin imports, sanctions on Iranian financial institutions, and an almost total ban on selling aircraft or repair parts to Iranian aviation companies. Thus, by doing business with Iran, you risked the prospect of secondary sanctions, "which foreign persons who support targeted bad actors can be subject to a number of restricted measures that, in effect, cut-off these businesses from the United States financial system and make them unpalatable as business partners, customers, and suppliers to other foreign parties."

The most prominent example of this that comes to mind is the Chinese company, ZTE:

ZTE admitted to knowingly violating U.S. sanctions and export control laws by selling sensitive U.S. technology to Iran and to making false statements about the trade. ZTE falsely claimed that it had reprimanded employees complicit in the scheme. The company came clean only when pressed, which led Commerce to conclude that “ZTE still cannot be relied upon to make truthful statements” and to reactivate the trade restrictions.

In effect, some companies did see the potential to take advantage of a desperate Iran that would be hurting for trading partners, and hoped to make an advantageous deal. The risk, of course, is that you would upset the US:

On Monday [ed: April 16, 2018], the U.S. government imposed a 7-year ban on American companies selling hardware and software to the Chinese telecommunications equipment maker.

ZTE is China’s second-largest telecom vendor, after rival Huawei, and the 4th largest globally, selling network infrastructure (4G, wireless, servers, routers and more) and Android smartphones to carriers worldwide (including China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, Softbank, Telefonica).

For all of the types of equipment it makes, ZTE needs many critical hardware and software components made by U.S. firms including processors, memory, optics, antennas, screens, operating system or applications from the likes of Google, Intel, Micron, Qualcomm and many more.

The U.S. export ban effectively stops the availability of all American technology to the 80,000-employee-strong Chinese company , effectively shutting down its factories and sales activities.

And it will take years - if it's even possible to so - for ZTE to redesign all of its products to find alternatives to U.S.-made components.

As a result, without any products to sell and missing the crucial 5G transition revolution, we expect ZTE, a publicly traded company on the Hong-Kong and Shenzhen Stock Exchanges, to file for bankruptcy in the next few weeks.


President Trump, of course, saved ZTE from bankruptcy by lifting sanctions on them at a time he was taking a much harder stance against Iran (two weeks after the U.S. withdrawal from the Obama-era Iran nuclear accord and the re-imposition of sweeping U.S. sanctions (Source)), vowing that

President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!


So perhaps the economic risk of angering the US is subject to the current political tide in the US.


I suggest that it's at least in part because an Iran with nuclear weapons would be a potential threat to Russia and China. First, Iran exports its Islamic revolution, and both Russia and China have problems with Islamists. Second, if Iran gets nuclear weapons and follows through with its intent of using them to try to annihilate Israel, parts of both Russia and China are downwind.

  • 1
    But the issue is that everyone agrees that Iran is NOT building nuclear weapons...
    – SJuan76
    Sep 14, 2018 at 8:26
  • 1
    This is wrong. Islamic groups in Russia and China are not from the Shia branch of Islam (which is where Iran has much influence). But even if it had influence on those groups, there would be no reason why Iran should have any interest to reward support by strengthening terrorist groups in those countries. Also, not even the Israelian intelligence service thinks that Iran would use nuclear weapons on Israel. And finally, of course an all-out war between Iran and Israel would be a severe threat to the whole Middle East, but the consequences for China and Russia would be very limited.
    – Thern
    Sep 14, 2018 at 11:56
  • Not building them right now. Moving in that direction, no, not everybody agrees.
    – user21424
    Sep 14, 2018 at 15:11
  • @SJuan76: Who exactly is "everyone"?
    – jamesqf
    Sep 14, 2018 at 17:25

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