‘China supports Iran’s reasonable demands,’ Xi tells Tehran amid nuclear deal uncertainty

·4-min read

President Xi Jinping said China would work closely with Iran on regional affairs amid growing uncertainty over the future of the Iran nuclear deal and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

In a phone call on Monday with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rowhani, the Chinese leader said he supported Iran’s “reasonable demands” in efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

The call came after the United Nations nuclear watchdog said it could not reach an expected agreement on how to continue to inspect Iran’s nuclear sites.

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The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency and signatories of the deal, including China, have been trying to bring the United States and Iran back into the 2015 deal.

Iran on Monday agreed to extend by one month the agreement allowing the IAEA to keep monitoring the sites while talks of lifting sanctions against Iran continued in Vienna.

The one-month temporary deal will expire soon after Iran’s presidential election on June 18, when conservative hardliner candidates are expected to replace the outgoing Rowhani, adding to the uncertainty of the negotiations in the Austrian capital.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China welcomed the extension of the agreement, and called on the US to return to the Iran nuclear agreement.

“The Chinese side has done a lot of work to promote the progress of the negotiation,” Zhao said on Tuesday, adding the US should also remove sanctions on Iran and other countries including China.

“The extension reflects Iran’s willingness to promote the resumption of the agreement.”

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During the Monday phone call, Xi said China would increase coordination with Iran over the deal and other regional and international affairs.

“The Chinese side supports the Iran side’s reasonable demands concerning the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and is willing to strengthen coordination with the Iran side to safeguard both sides’ interests,” Xi said, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement.

He also said China would “continue to play a constructive role in pushing for an early and just settlement of the Palestinian issue, and is ready to work with Iran to strengthen communication and cooperation on regional and international affairs”.

A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas came into force on Friday after 11 days of violence that killed 248 Palestinians and 12 people in Israel.

The phone call happened ahead of the arrival in Tel Aviv of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Blinken will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, although he will not meet representatives from Hamas.

On Sunday, Blinken reaffirmed US support for a two-state solution as the only way to provide hope to Israelis and Palestinians that they could live “with equal measures of security, of peace and dignity”.

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Iran, a regional rival of Israel, has for decades supported Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza, with weaponry and military training and cheered the damage done to Israel in the recent conflict.

The Iranian president is quoted as saying he “thanked China for its just stance on the JCPOA and regional issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”, as well as the support it received from China to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

In March, China and Iran signed a 25-year agreement with Iran on energy, and economic and security cooperation. Officials did not release details of the deal, but hailed it as a new starting point for ties between the two nations.

The agreement, dubbed the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, covers a range of economic activity from oil and mining to promoting industrial activity in Iran, as well as transport and agricultural collaborations.

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