China slams US sanctions on Iran as sweeping strategic agreement launched

China said, on Saturday, that it will begin implementing a strategic agreement with Iran, and strengthening economic and political cooperation between the two countries, at a time when Beijing criticized Washington’s sanctions on Tehran.

China and Iran signed the agreement last year after years of talks, with the broad partnership set to extend to areas including energy, security, infrastructure and communications.

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The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir Abdollahian announced the start of implementing the partnership at a meeting held in Wuxi, east China, on Friday.

Few details of the secret deal have been released, but the New York Times reported in 2020 that it would secure a regular supply of oil to China, citing a draft agreement leaked to the newspaper.

China is Iran’s main trading partner and was one of the country’s largest oil buyers before then-US President Donald Trump reimposed comprehensive unilateral sanctions in 2018.

China has officially stopped importing oil from Iran, but analysts say Iranian crude continues to enter the country disguised as imports from other countries.

The Foreign Ministry said Wang told his Iranian counterpart on Friday that China would continue to “oppose illegal unilateral sanctions against Iran.”

Beijing has long sought to bolster ties with Tehran, with Chinese President Xi Jinping calling Iran “China’s main partner in the Middle East” on a rare visit to the country in 2016.

Wang and Amir Abdullahian’s meeting comes as talks continue in Vienna over a possible agreement to halt Tehran’s development of nuclear weapons.

The 2015 deal — agreed to by Iran, the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — offered sanctions relief for Tehran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

But the United States withdrew from the agreement in 2018, reimposing severe sanctions and prompting Tehran to backtrack on its commitments.

Talk of saving the nuclear deal began in late November, after it was suspended when Iran elected a new, ultra-conservative government in June.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said Wang told his Iranian counterpart on Friday that China believed the United States was responsible for the current status of the deal.

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