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China says to maintain trade cooperation with Iran

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang told the visiting Iranian oil minister on Friday that Beijing would maintain cooperation with Tehran on existing projects, after the United States called on Beijing to observe sanctions.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks at a news conference at the Shanghai World Expo site, June 11, 2010. REUTERS/Aly Song

“Iran is an important trade partner of China’s in western Asia and North Africa and one of the country’s main oil suppliers. Bilateral economic and trade cooperation has achieved fruitful results,” state television paraphrased Li as telling minister Massoud Mirkazemi.

“China is willing to work hard with Iran, continue to push mutual political trust, and maintain communication, dialogue and coordination on important international issues, to maintain regional and global peace, stability and prosperity,” Li added.

“The key point is to solidly push forward existing cooperative projects, to ensure they are put into effect smoothly, to deepen bilateral pragmatic cooperation and promote the continued development of bilateral ties,” he added.

State television showed pictures of the meeting, in the Communist Party’s headquarters in central Beijing, on its main evening news.

Mirkazemi said he hoped that “both sides would create conditions to push forward existing projects,” the brief report added, without elaborating.

The minister is in Beijing for talks with Chinese energy executives. He has not made any public comments.

China has already pushed back at U.S. pressure on its business and oil trade with Iran in comments published earlier this week, saying Chinese trade dealings with Iran should not be criticized.

The government was responding to comments by Robert Einhorn, special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control at the U.S. State Department, who said on Monday that China should observe sanctions against Iran aimed at forcing it to curtail its nuclear ambitions.

Western governments have pressed China to loosen its energy and economic ties with Iran, which they see as shielding Iran from international pressure.

Iran is a major supplier of crude oil to China, the world’s second-biggest consumer of oil after the United States.

The United States has urged China to tap other suppliers, but China has condemned unilateral U.S. and E.U. sanctions aimed at Iran’s energy sector.

China has backed U.N. Security Council resolutions pressing Iran to abandon disputed nuclear activities, which Western governments say are aimed at giving Iran the means to make nuclear weapons. Iran disputes that.

In the first half of 2010, Iran held its place as China’s third biggest supplier of crude with shipments of 9 million tonnes of oil, putting it behind Saudi Arabia and Angola, according to Chinese customs data.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard, editing by Miral Fahmy