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Top Rouhani Aide Says Iran-China Pact Can Be Finalized By March 2021

President Hassan Rouhani (left) with the head of presidential office, Mahmoud Vaezi, undated. FILE PHOTO

President Hassan Rouhani's chief of staff has said the coronavirus pandemic delayed negotiations on a proposed Iran-China 25-year pact, but probably a final agreement can be reached by March 2021, when the current Iranian calendar year ends.

Mahmoud Vaezi who was speaking on state television July 11, also tried to deny rumors about some aspects of the deal, saying that subjects such as ceding Iranian islands in the Persian Gulf to China or “accommodating the [Chinese] military” have not been “breached”.

He also reiterated that if a document bearing “obligations” for Iran is signed, it must be ratified by the Iranian parliament.

The news about a long-term pact came to the surface last month leading to negative reactions among many Iranians who saw a strategic deal with China as a “sell-out” of Iran’s resources by the clergy-dominated regime in Tehran. Many social media opinion leaders charged that such a move is an attempt by the regime to save itself amid serious economic crisis and isolation.

Some others say that the Trump administration’s tough stance against Tehran has pushed it into China’s arms, but the initial negotiations with China were conducted in 2016 in the aftermath of the nuclear deal when there were strong hopes for normalizing relations with the West.

Although Iran has been enthusiastically heralding an imminent agreement with China, Beijing has been silent so far. This has led to speculations that speaking of a pact is more of a wish by Tehran at this point rather than an immediate prospect, given the fact that China largely observes U.S. sanctions.