10/16/2009, 00.00
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Wen Jiabao calls for “closer ties between China and Iran”

Speaking on the sidelines of the SCO summit, China’s prime minister says the two countries should strengthen cooperation in the energy field and develop bilateral trade, which is now worth US$ 27 billion. He also signalled China’s weariness of new international sanctions against Iran’s clerical regime.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China wants to maintain high-level exchanges with Iran, enhance mutual understanding and trust, promote bilateral cooperation and coordinate closely in international affairs, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit, which brought together the heads of government and state of East and Central Asia. Iran, which has observer status in the organisation, is represented by Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi (pictured).

Wen’s comments come two days after the US Congress voted in favour of new sanctions against the clerical regime in Tehran, and are also a response to the European Union, which at the start of the week called on the Iranians to be more transparent about their nuclear plants.

For Wen, China intends “to maintain high-level contacts with Iran, encourage mutual understanding and confidence, and promote practical co-operation between the two sides and close co-ordination in international affairs,” adding that Beijing “is willing to continue playing a constructive role in promoting peaceful resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu gave no further details of what was said between Wen and Rahimi about the nuclear dispute, but he did say that Vice President Rahimi hoped to see economic and energy ties with China expand.

“The Sino-Iran relationship has witnessed rapid development . . . and co-operation in trade and energy has widened and deepened,” Wen said.

Wen's comments left little doubt that China wanted to keep at arm's length from possible Western demands for stiffer sanctions.  They also could mean that Beijing is likely to use its veto power as a permanent member of the Security Council to protect Iran in exchange for more oil.

China is the world’s second largest oil consumer, and Iran holds the second largest crude-oil reserves but needs investment and technology to develop them and make them competitive

Last year, the China National Petroleum Corp. signed a US$ 1.76-billion deal with the National Iranian Oil Co. to tap Iran's North Azadegan oil field, which is expected to produce 75,000 barrels a day by 2012.

In March, the two nations signed a US$ 3.2-billion, three-year pact to develop the South Pars gas field beneath the Persian Gulf. Geologists say the underwater cavity may be the world's largest source of natural gas.

China now gets at least 14 percent of its imported oil from Iran, making it China's largest supplier and the source of as much as US$ 7 billion worth of oil this year.

Tehran in turn gets major weapons systems from Beijing, including ballistic and cruise missiles and technical assistance for Tehran's indigenous missile program. About 100 Chinese companies operate in Iran, in particular in infrastructures.

Despite the sanctions already in place, two-way trade between China and Iran grew 35 per cent last year, to US$ 27 billion.

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