(Bloomberg) -- Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif sought further talks after failing to win any concrete assurance to help tackle the U.S. threat of economic sanctions over its nuclear program.
The meeting with Wang Yi in Beijing, at China’s invitation, is Zarif’s first stop on a diplomatic tour after President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program and threatened to reimpose the “highest level” of financial sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Zarif is scheduled to meet the British, French and German foreign ministers on May 15 in Brussels.
“We hope that with this visit to China and other countries we will be able to construct a clear future design for the comprehensive agreement,” Zarif said. “My colleagues have had in-depth talks with their counterparts in China’s foreign ministry over our cooperation, especially over the details of our cooperation.”
China offered to hold strategic talks with Iran but did not disclose whether Beijing might scale back imports in light of renewed U.S. sanctions.
“I hope and believe that these visits to multiple countries will improve countries’, including China’s, understanding of Iran’s position,” Wang said. “It will allow you to make your own positive contribution to help protect Iran’s legitimate national interests and peace and stability in the region.”
China offers Iran a valuable alternative to trade with the U.S. and Europe. Commerce between Iran and China has more than doubled since 2006 to $28 billion with oil exports from Iran valued at $11 billion a year.
Chinese companies have been among the most active in investing in Iranian infrastructure projects and energy assets after sanctions were lifted in 2016. State-owned train builder CRRC Corp. this year beat bids from two European rivals to win a contract worth more than $900 billion to supply wagons for the subways of several Iranian cities. In the past year, Chinese companies have signed some $2.2 billion in deals to build or fund railway lines to the eastern city of Mashhad and the Gulf port of Bushehr.
China’s largest energy company, China National Petroleum Corp., stands to take control of the contract to develop the South Pars gas field if its French partner Total SA can’t win an exemption from U.S. sanctions.
China has found ways to bypass sanctions on Iran in the past. It has settled some of its oil debt through barter and Iran has used yuan paid into Chinese bank accounts to buy Chinese goods. Beijing-based oil importer Zhuhai Zhenrong Co. kept buying Iranian oil after the previous sanctions were put in place in 2012 and will likely keep doing so when they are reimposed, analysts say.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.
With assistance from Sarah Chen