Reuters: The European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Thursday she had pressed China to ensure that Chinese companies did not fill the void left by other firms leaving Iran due to U.N. sanctions.
BEIJING, Sept 2 (Reuters) – The European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Thursday she had pressed China to ensure that Chinese companies did not fill the void left by other firms leaving Iran due to U.N. sanctions.
U.S. officials said in July that Chinese companies had been pursuing trade with Iran despite the threat of U.S. sanctions and a June United Nations Security Council resolution imposing more punitive measures on Tehran over its nuclear programme.
Robert Einhorn, special adviser for non-proliferation and arms control at the U.S. State Department, said at the time that China should not “backfill” by doing more deals with Iran while “responsible countries are distancing themselves from Iran”.
Ashton, speaking to reporters at the end of an official visit to China, said she told Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi that observing sanctions placed on Iran was vital.
“We expected that we would all work together in a way that would be effective but that we would stand together,” she said. “My message was meant to be very clear — that we would expect that we wouldn’t see ‘backfill’.”
Ashton added it was “too early to tell” if China was indeed “backfilling”.
Western governments have pressed China to loosen its energy and economic ties with Iran, which they see as shielding Iran from international pressure.
Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang told the visiting Iranian oil minister last month that Beijing would maintain cooperation with Tehran on existing projects.
China has backed U.N. Security Council resolutions pressing Iran to abandon disputed nuclear activities that Western governments say are aimed at giving Iran the means to make nuclear weapons. Iran disputes that.
The United States has urged China to tap other energy suppliers, but China has condemned unilateral U.S. and E.U. sanctions aimed at Iran’s energy sector.
Ashton said there had been no criticism of the EU’s position during her talks.
“I explained to Minister Yang the significance of having a cohesive approach towards Iran, that as I’ve always said the solution is through dialogue, that the sanctions are designed to support that by helping to put the right kind of pressure on Iran … and that China has a significant role to play,” she said.
Iran is a major supplier of crude oil to China, the world’s second-biggest consumer of oil after the United States. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Alex Richardson)