China, Iran Expected to Sign 25-Year Accord, Iranian State Media Says

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi iduring their meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China February 19, 2019. How Hwee Young/Pool via REUTERS

DUBAI, March 26 (Reuters) – Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in Iran on Friday for a visit that Iranian state media said would see the signing of a 25-year cooperation agreement between the two countries, which are both under U.S sanctions.

The accord, final details of which are yet to be announced, is expected to include Chinese investments in Iran’s key sectors such as energy and infrastructure.

In 2016, China, one of Iran’s largest trading partners and long-time ally, agreed to boost bilateral trade by more than 10 times to $600 billion in the next decade.

“The signing of the comprehensive cooperation programme of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the People’s Republic of China by the foreign ministers of the two countries is another programme of this two-day trip,” Iran’s state news agency IRNA said.

The accord comes as Tehran hardens its stance towards the United States and the European signatories of the 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.

On Thursday, China’s commerce ministry said the country will make efforts to safeguard the Iran nuclear deal and defend the legitimate interests of Sino-Iranian relations.

China’s comments came after Reuters reported that Iran has “indirectly” moved record volumes of oil into China in recent months, marked as supplies from other countries, even as China customs data showed that no Iranian oil was imported in the first two months of this year.

U.S. President Joe Biden has sought to revive talks with Iran on the nuclear deal abandoned by former President Donald Trump in 2018, although harsh economic measures remain in place that Tehran insists be lifted before any negotiations resume.

The United States and the other Western powers that signed the 2015 deal appear at odds with Tehran over which side should return to the accord first, making it unlikely that U.S. sanctions which have crippled Iran’s economy can be quickly removed.

However, the OPEC member’s oil exports climbed in January after a boost in the fourth quarter, despite U.S. sanctions, in a sign that the end of Trump’s term as U.S. president may be changing buyer behaviour, after a sharp drop in Iranian exports to China and other Asian customers since late 2018.

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(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, Editing by William Maclean)