State Dept official: Iran’s cooperation agreement with China ‘is definitely not good for the region’

A State Department official said Thursday that while Iran’s current relationship with China may not pose an immediate threat, that does not make it a positive development.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a hearing on China’s role in the Middle East. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., had several questions pertaining to Iran in particular. Young asked about the cooperation agreement that two countries signed in 2021, and whether it poses a threat to American troops or allies.

“There’s no direct threat as such at the moment to U.S. forces,” Lead said, “but it is definitely not good for the region.”

Immediately prior to that exchange, Young and Lead discussed China’s role in the negotiations for a new Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Young asked Leaf if China’s role in the talks has posed an obstacle to the American goal of achieving a stronger, longer deal compared to the one entered into by the Obama administration that the Trump administration then left.

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Leaf said that China “has been constructive within the bonds of the P5+1 efforts,” referring to negotiations being conducted by the group of nations that includes the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – China, the U.S., United Kingdom, France, and Russia – plus Germany. Despite this, however, Leaf expressed concern that China does not take advantage of its position to get Iran to cease bad behavior in the Middle East.

“My concern goes to how China does not pressure Iran at the appropriate points when we see kinetic activity and where we see clear evidence that Iran is providing lethal aid, resources, etc. to proxies in the region that are extraordinarily destructive,” she said.

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Iran and China signed a 25-year strategic cooperation agreement in 2021 that includes economic and agricultural activities as well as transportation.

In April of this year, Chinese Minister of National Defense Wei Fenghe visited Iran and met with President Ebrahim Raisi. Wei said the purpose of the trip was “improving the strategic defense cooperation” between Iran and China.

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