September 23, 2019 / 11:28 AM / 25 days ago

China's Xi says disputes in Gulf should be resolved peacefully

BEIJING (Reuters) - Disputes in the Gulf should be resolved peacefully via talks and all sides should remain calm and exercise restraint, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Iraq’s visiting prime minister on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Workers are seen at the damaged site of Saudi Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, September 20, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed/File Photo

Riyadh is preparing to provide evidence to the U.N. General Assembly which it says will prove Iran was behind a Sept. 14 drone and missile assault on Saudi oil facilities, a view shared by Washington. The assault initially had a drastic impact on Saudi oil output.

Riyadh says Iranian weapons were launched from the north and that it is working to pinpoint the exact location. Tehran has denied any involvement and vowed to retaliate against even a limited military response.

Meeting Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi in Beijing, Xi reiterated China’s previous calls for calm, according to Chinese state television.

“At present the situation in the Gulf region of the Middle East is complex and sensitive,” the report cited Xi as saying, without directly mentioning the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities.

“All relevant parties must remain calm and exercise restraint, and appropriately resolve their differences peacefully via dialogue and negotiation on the basis of mutual respect, to jointly safeguard regional peace and stability.”

China is ready to communicate with all parties in this regard, including Iraq, Xi added.

The United States, an ally of Saudi Arabia, has deployed additional troops to the Gulf region for “deterrence and defense”, though U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that Washington aims to avoid war with Iran.

Despite being a relatively low-profile diplomatic player in the Middle East, China has close economic and energy relations with both Saudi Arabia and Iran and has long had to tread carefully in its ties with both.

Xi spoke to Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Friday, condemning the Sept. 14 attack, calling for an objective and fair investigation and for all parties to avoid taking steps that would escalate the situation.

Saudi Arabia is China’s top oil supplier for the year to date, while fellow OPEC member Iraq is the fourth-biggest, shipping about 930,000 barrels per day to China in the first seven months of this year.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Gareth Jones

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