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Cablegate: Prc/Iran: China in Wait-and-See Mode Bilaterally

DE RUEHBJ #2494/01 2441218
O 011218Z SEP 09



E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/01/2034

Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Aubrey Carlson.
Reasons 1.4 (b/d).

1. (C) SUMMARY: China is biding its time until the political
crisis in Iran reaches a clearer resolution and the
Ahmadinejad government consolidates power, and will signal
its renewed engagement by sending a high-level delegation to
Tehran once the political situation has been resolved,
according to an MFA official. Our contact reaffirmed China's
commitment to the P5-plus-1 process and assessed that Iran is
attempting to keep the door to negotiation with the United
States open despite the turmoil surrounding the June
election, but cautioned that a complete halt to uranium
enrichment is an unattainable goal. China continues to urge
Iran to respond positively to the P5-plus-1 offer for talks,
and these entreaties have been passed directly to Supreme
Leader Khamenei. Iran reportedly requested to upgrade its
relationship with Beijing to a "strategic partnership," but
China refused. A Communist Party official told us that the
CCP is seeking to increase its relations with six major
political parties and factions in Iran and deepen its
understanding of U.S. policy in the Middle East. He repeated
China's standard position on the Iran nuclear issue and
suggested that the U.S. offer economic incentives to persuade
the Iranians to enter into talks on the nuclear issue. He
dismissed concerns that negative perceptions in the Middle
East of China after the July violence in Xinjiang province
would affect China's diplomacy with Iran. END SUMMARY.

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2. (C) PolOff discussed Iran-China relations with MFA West
Asian Affairs Department Iran Division Deputy Director Ni
Ruchi August 31. In a separate meeting the same day, Chinese
Communist Party (CCP) Central Committee International Liaison
Department (CCID) Third Bureau (West Asia and North Africa)
Director Wu Baocai gave PolOff the Party's perspective on
Iran and the nuclear issue.

Holding Back Bilaterally until Political Dust Settles
--------------------------------------------- --------

3. (C) MFA Iran Division Deputy Director Ni said that the
political turmoil in Iran had yet to settle and that China
was still waiting for the situation to calm further before
re-engaging fully in bilateral relations. He argued that the
internal divisions that had played out in the June
presidential elections had existed well before the violent
aftermath of the June election. China had been aware of the
potential for conflict among those divisions to spill into
the street and had taken a cautious approach before the
election. He said that the Chinese government understood
that the election was a strong indication of deep-seated
divisions within the Iranian government, but stressed that
the contested election had not fundamentally undermined the
current government and that China would continue with its
normal engagement with Tehran.

4. (C) China would signal its re-engagement, Ni reported,
with a high-level delegation to Tehran, but there was no
timetable for such a visit yet because the leadership in
Tehran was still fully focused on consolidating power. He
noted that during his mid-August visit to Iran, protestors
had continued to take to the streets to express
dissatisfaction with the election. Ni reaffirmed China's
commitment to the P5-plus-1 process, stressing that the U.S.
and China not only had common interests in Iran, but the
scope of this common interest was increasing.

Iran Keeping the Door Open?

5. (C) Ni said that China had taken note of efforts by the
Iranian government to keep a path open to direct negotiations
despite the ongoing political turmoil. He claimed that
Tehran had refrained from overplaying its accusations of the
U.S. role in the election turmoil, preferring to point the
finger at European countries, indicating that the Iranian
leadership was interested in maintaining the possibility of
direct talks. Ni said that the election had caused the
Iranian leadership to reexamine seriously its foreign policy,
particularly on the nuclear issue, adding that Iran's nuclear
development had suffered technical setbacks recently, which
had also forced the leadership to consider how to move

China Lobbying but Total Halt to Enrichment Unattainable
--------------------------------------------- -----------

6. (C) Ni reported that China continued to urge Iran at every
level of their engagement to respond positively to the
P53-plus-1 offer of direct talks and cease uranium enrichment

BEIJING 00002494 002 OF 002

activities. He said that Chinese leaders had pointed out to
their Iranian counterparts on many occasions that the United
States had shown "restraint" in its public comments during
the June election aftermath, and that Iran was missing an
important opportunity by refusing to respond to the P5-plus-1
offer. Ni said that China's message encouraging greater
engagement had been passed directly to Supreme Leader
Khamenei. He cautioned that Tehran would not be able to
respond positively to P5-plus-1 overtures until it had
reinforced its position at home, and that a "100-percent"
halt to uranium enrichment had become an unattainable goal.
Ni said that China continued to believe that fresh sanctions
would be ineffective in persuading Iran to cease enrichment
activities and would be counter-productive by increasing the
unity of the various factions in Iran behind the nuclear
program and the current government. Ni argued that the
regime in Iran would emerge from the crisis in a weakened
position and thus more likely to negotiate with the P5-plus-1
on the nuclear issue.

Iran Seeks "Strategic Partnership" with an Unwilling PRC
--------------------------------------------- -----------

7. (C) Ni said that Iran had requested that Beijing upgrade
its relationship with Tehran, presumably to counter Western
pressure, by lobbying Beijing to label its relationship with
Iran a "strategic partnership" as it does for Russia and
other countries. Ni said that China had so far refused to do
so and Iran was frustrated with China's continuing insistence
that the two countries shared merely "normal" relations.

Party Seeks to Increase its Interaction with Iran
--------------------------------------------- ----

8. (C) CCP Central Committee International Liaison Department
(CCID) Third Bureau (West Asia and North Africa) Director Wu
Baocai told PolOff August 31 that the CCP was seeking to
increase its relations with six major political parties and
factions in Iran. He noted that links between the CCP and
Iranian political parties had lagged behind the growth in
relations between executive branches and far behind the
increase in economic links. He said that deepening
understanding among the CCP leadership of the U.S. position
on Iran was another emerging priority for his office and that
he was open to continued exchanges with the U.S. on the
nuclear issue.

CCP Perspective on Iran Nuclear Program

9. (C) Wu said that CCP officials were increasingly concerned
through 2008 at the possibility of the United States taking
military action against Iran's nuclear program but assessed
that such a possibility was much lower in 2009. He noted
that sanctions had not only failed to change Iranian behavior
and create meaningful effects in Iran but were negatively
affecting the countries joining in the international effort
to persuade Iran to stop its nuclear activities, citing as an
example constraints placed on Chinese banks from doing
business with Iran. He said that he believed the
international community was unlikely to be able to persuade
Iran to fully abandon its enrichment activities and suggested
the U.S. offer modest economic benefits as an incentive to
persuade Iran to enter into dialogue. Wu reiterated China's
strong opposition to Iran using its nuclear technology to
develop nuclear weapons but stressed the right of all
countries to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

Iran Relations Unaffected by Xinjiang Violence
--------------------------------------------- -

10. (C) Wu dismissed concerns that dismay in Iran and other
parts of the Middle East over China's treatment of ethnic
Uighurs in Xinjiang province would complicate China's
diplomacy with Iran. While acknowledging that some
high-level religious leaders in Iran had been highly critical
of China in the wake of the July violence in Xinjiang, he
said that Beijing was seeking to counter the danger of China
becoming a target for anger in the Muslim world by
significantly increasing its media outreach in the Middle
East, citing the recent establishment of an Arabic-language
version of government-run CCTV.

© Scoop Media

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