Xi is 1st VIP in Iran after sanctions lifted

Iranian President Rouhani and his Chinese counterpart, Mr Xi, at a welcome ceremony at Iran's presidential palace in Teheran yesterday. Mr Xi is the first Chinese president to visit Iran in 14 years.
Iranian President Rouhani and his Chinese counterpart, Mr Xi, at a welcome ceremony at Iran's presidential palace in Teheran yesterday. Mr Xi is the first Chinese president to visit Iran in 14 years.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

DUBAI • Iran and China have agreed to expand bilateral ties to form a comprehensive strategic partnership, President Hassan Rouhani and visiting Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping said yesterday, calling it a "new season" in bilateral relations.

The Chinese President is the first leader to visit Iran since international sanctions on the Islamic republic were lifted on Jan 16 after it struck a deal with six major powers to limit its nuclear programme. China was one of the six.

"We are happy that President Xi visited Iran after the lifting of sanctions... Iran and China have agreed to increase trade to US$600 billion (S$858 billion) in the next 10 years," Dr Rouhani said at the news conference with Mr Xi, which was broadcast live on state television.

"Iran and China have agreed on forming strategic relations (as) reflected in a 25-year comprehensive document," he said.

Both countries signed 17 accords yesterday, including agreements on a revival of the ancient Silk Road trade route and cooperation in peaceful nuclear energy.

Dr Rouhani said the two countries had also agreed to cooperate closely to resolve the issue of "terrorism and extremism in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen".

Mr Xi is the first Chinese president to visit Iran in 14 years, according to the Iranian state news agency Irna. He also visited Saudi Arabia and Egypt during a Middle East tour that began last Tuesday.

Riyadh and a number of Sunni Arab allies broke diplomatic ties with Iran this month after protesters, angry over the execution of a prominent Shi'ite cleric, ransacked Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran.

In Cairo, Mr Xi offered US$55 billion in loans and investments to the Middle East, a region where China wants to strengthen its economic presence.

Beijing is Teheran's top customer for oil exports, which in recent years were hit by United States and European Union sanctions over Teheran's nuclear programme.

Trade between the two countries was worth US$52 billion in 2014. According to Iranian media, more than a third of Iran's foreign trade is carried out with China.

Mr Xi, accompanied by three deputy prime ministers and six ministers, also brought a large business delegation. He was to meet Iran's most powerful figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, later in the day.

"Iran is China's major partner in the Middle East and the two countries have chosen to boost bilateral relations," Irna quoted Mr Xi as saying.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 24, 2016, with the headline 'Xi is 1st VIP in Iran after sanctions lifted'. Print Edition | Subscribe