TEHRAN - New freight train connections usually only have a limited potential to make global headlines, but a new service launched from China on Thursday could be different. Its cargo - 1,150 tons of sunflower seeds - may appears unremarkable, but its destination, however, is far more interesting: Tehran, the capital of Iran .
The launch of a new rail connection between Bayannur in China 's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Iran was announced by the official news agency Xinhua on Thursday. Its exact path was not described in the dispatch, but travel times will apparently be shortened by at least 20 days in comparison to cargo shipping. The sunflower seeds are now expected to arrive in Tehran in about two weeks.
While the seeds are making their steady progress across Asia, there's a growing risk of Iran and Israel <link>breaking into open conflict in the meantime. French President Emmanuel Macron has already predicted that the U.S. decision to pull out of the Iran deal would lead to war, especially after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned that the country may restart its nuclear program if U.S. sanctions are imposed. Iranian rocket attacks on Wednesday and the subsequent Israeli retaliatory attacks on Thursday indicated how quickly the situation could indeed escalate.
While the United States is now urging foreign companies to wind down their operations in Iran , China appears to be doing the opposite. Thursday's freight train connection launch was only the latest measure Beijing has taken to intensify trade relations with Iran and there seem to be no plans so far to give in to U.S. demands.
"We will continue with our normal and transparent practical cooperation with Iran on the basis of not violating our international obligations," he said. China faces the same problem U.S. allies in Europe are currently facing <link>: Even if European governments are opposed to new sanctions on Iran , European companies would have to abide by those rules or risk severe fines by the United States.
Even though they have expressed their outrage, some high-ranking European officials have already acknowledged that they would have few options to rein in the United States if it decided to punish European companies for continuing to trade with Iran .
China , however, appears more defiant.
Iran 's Hassan Rouhani had established a track record for bridge-building in nuclear talks with European powers
When asked whether China would order its companies to withdraw from Iran to avoid U.S. sanctions, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman indicated that Beijing might defy the Trump administration. "I want to stress that the Chinese government is opposed to the imposition of unilateral sanctions and the so-called long-arm jurisdiction by any country in accordance with its domestic laws," he said.
China has to some extent managed to circumvent U.S. sanctions in the past and may be able to do the same again this time. Some analysts have even suggested that Chinese entities could act as intermediaries for European companies that want to continue trading with Iran , but fear violating U.S. sanctions. Such sanctions would be particularly damaging to European businesses operating in the United States, such as plane manufacturer Airbus.