Obama and Xi seeing eye to eye on Iran

Friday 09/10/2015
US President Barack Obama next to Chinese President Xi Jinping after their meeting at the White House, on September 25, 2015.

Washington - In his welcoming toast at the state dinner for Chinese Presi­dent Xi Jinping, US President Barack Obama proposed that the people of China and the United States “work together, like fingers on the same hand, in friend­ship and in peace”. The president’s warm words, which came in the face of pressure from many in Washington to be tougher towards Beijing, were reciprocated by the Chinese president, who described his visit as “an unforgettable jour­ney”.
This might be because Xi got the attention and recognition for his country’s increasingly asser­tive role in world affairs from the world’s only superpower — not bad for a leader who travelled to Wash­ington at a time when the Chinese economic miracle is starting to lose lustre.
Obama not only welcomed an ex­panded role for China, he also told Xi that as “powerful as the United States is, the nature of the biggest challenges we face — things like climate change or terrorism or pan­demics or refugees — those are not issues that any one nation alone can solve”.
The president outlined the ar­eas where China is a “partner to address global challenges”, and included among them promoting nuclear security, combating piracy off the horn of Africa, encouraging development and achieving recon­ciliation in Afghanistan.
US-Chinese cooperation on the Middle East, and especially on Iran, has already borne results.
Obama received reaffirmation from Xi of China’s support for the nuclear deal and Iran got a mes­sage that China stands behind the implementation of the deal. Xi said he and Obama “reaffirmed that all relevant parties should undertake to implement the agreement fully and work together to implement all relevant United Nations’ Security Council resolutions”.
Obama also was firm in his insist­ence that Iran fully implement the nuclear deal but the difference in language when Obama was talking about Iran compared with North Ko­rea was telling. On Iran, Obama said all parties, including Iran, “need to fully implement the nuclear deal”. But when talking about North Ko­rea, the president “demanded” the “full implementation of all relevant UN resolutions”. “We will not ac­cept North Korea as a nuclear weap­ons state,” Obama said.
China and Iran already have a good relationship. China is second only to Russia in supplying Iran with arms.
The United States and China agreed to cooperate more closely on terrorism financing, including exchanging information related to money laundering and terrorist financing. US officials said this co­operation should help in the war on terrorism and against groups such as the Islamic State (ISIS). More broadly, Obama called on China to play a bigger role in addressing global economic challenges.
One of the major topics of discus­sion between the two leaders was navigation in the South China Sea, an issue that, along with cyberse­curity, has been a source of bilateral tension. The position of US allies in the region is a mirror image of America’s allies in the Gulf, where the administration is seen as being soft on Iran’s intransigent behav­iour in the area.
Obama reaffirmed that “the US will continue to sail, fly and operate anywhere that interna­tional law allows” and he ex­pressed concern over Chinese land reclamation and construc­tion in disputed areas, a major concern for America’s allies in the region.
The Chinese president’s response was clear and firm. Xi said the “is­lands in the South China Sea since ancient times are China’s territory. We have the right to uphold our own territorial sovereignty and law­ful and legitimate maritime rights and interests.” But at the same time, he committed to “maintain­ing peace and stability in the South China Sea” and “support freedom of navigation”.