International tensions rose Monday (October 19) following the expiration of an United Nations (UN) conventional arms embargo on Iran, as the Russian and Chinese regimes eye new weapons sales to Tehran while the United States considers any such moves as in breach of international law.
Tehran said the ban imposed more than a decade ago was lifted "automatically" as of Sunday (October 18), based on the terms of a 2015 landmark nuclear deal with world powers, from which the United States has withdrawn.
The lifting of the embargo allows Iran to buy and sell military equipment including tanks, armoured vehicles, combat aircraft, helicopters and heavy artillery.
Iranian Defence Minister Amir Hatami told state television October 18 that "a number of countries" have contacted Iran on potential arms trade.
"As of today, the Islamic Republic may procure any necessary arms and equipment from any source without any legal restrictions, and solely based on its defensive needs," the Iranian Foreign Ministry added in the statement sent out on Twitter.
Tehran also October 19 said it is more inclined to sell weapons rather than buy them.
"Before being a buyer in the arms market, Iran has the ability to supply" other countries, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters.
"Our sales will be much more expansive (than purchases)," said Hatami.
Russia and China eye arms deals
Moscow and Beijing, both long-time critics of the embargo, appear poised to ink deals with Tehran.
Iranian officials have made a number of trips to both Russia and China over the past few months regarding security, trade and more.
Asked if the Chinese regime would now sell arms to Tehran, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian October 19 did not directly address the issue but said Beijing would "handle military trade in accordance with its military export policy and its international obligations".
Moscow said in September that it was ready to boost its military co-operation with Tehran, while Beijing has also spoken of its willingness to sell arms to Tehran after October 18.
In July, a proposed agreement between the Chinese and Iranian regimes described deepening military co-operation, calling for joint training and exercises, joint research and weapons development and intelligence sharing.
Many observers say the agreement will bring about a host of negative effects for the region and beyond, as a weakened and cornered Iranian regime -- teetering on the brink of economic collapse, facing major domestic disillusionment with the ruling regime, and cut off from most of the world because of its ongoing pursuit of nuclear weapons and its arming of militias across the Middle East and South Asia -- will be at the mercy of an emboldened and assertive Beijing.
Arms sales to Iran will breach UN resolutions and will result in sanctions, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said October 18.
"The United States is prepared to use its domestic authorities to sanction any individual or entity that materially contributes to the supply, sale, or transfer of conventional arms to or from Iran," Pompeo said in a statement.
"Every nation that seeks peace and stability in the Middle East and supports the fight against terrorism should refrain from any arms transactions with Iran."
"For the past 10 years, countries have refrained from selling weapons to Iran under various UN measures. Any country that now challenges this prohibition will be very clearly choosing to fuel conflict and tension over promoting peace and security," said Pompeo.
Lingering nuclear concerns
An exiled Iran opposition group said Friday (October 16) it had uncovered a secret new military site run by a shadowy Iranian Defence Ministry research unit that they fear is being used for testing in the country's nuclear programme.
Work on the site in Sorkheh-Hessar, east of Tehran, is used by sections of the secretive Organisation of Defensive Innovation and Research, overseen by the Defence Ministry, said the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).
A section devoted to geophysics known as the Chamran Group is at the site and, according to the NCRI, "works on projects related to underground nuclear tests".
Its focus has included tests "for preliminary explosions to build nuclear weapons and record results by seismometers". Previous tests had taken place at a site south of Semnan, the group said.
It alleged that the Iranian regime had "engaged in the secret and illicit purchase of military-grade sensitive seismometers from Russia" to carry out the work.
The NCRI did not provide proof that such testing work was taking place at the new site,but argued that its existence showed again that the Iranian regime was breaching the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal signed with world powers.
"Our revelation today once again proves ... that the [deal] did not prevent the mullahs' activities to acquire nuclear weapons and [that] even the regime has reneged on its commitments," the NCRI said.