United States President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping talked about how to harmonise their positions in the resumption of negotiations with Iran on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, a top US official said on Tuesday.
Officials from Iran and the six nations that struck the pact – the United Kingdom, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US – will meet in Vienna on November 29 to see if Tehran and Washington can agree to renew indirect talks on the UN-recognised agreement under which Iran curbed its nuclear program to gain relief from Western economic sanctions.
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“The two presidents had the chance to talk about how we can align our perspectives heading into that meeting,” White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told a virtual audience in a web event hosted by the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, on Tuesday.
The Iran nuclear talks were just one of a range of issues confronting the US and China that Biden and Xi discussed in three and a half hours on November 15. In the most in-depth exchange since Biden took office as US president in January, the two covered tensions over Taiwan, strategic nuclear controls and global economic issues.
On Iran, former President Donald Trump had unilaterally withdrawn the US from the UN-recognised pact in 2018 and restored harsh economic sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran a year later to begin developing its nuclear capabilities anew.
The US-Iranian talks in Vienna have been indirect, with officials from the other nations shuttling between them. Iran refuses direct contact with US officials.
While China favours reviving the agreement, it has placed the onus for renewing the deal on the US rather than Iran, blaming Washington for having abandoned it. China has given Tehran an economic lifeline by buying Iranian oil despite US sanctions.
Biden, speaking in New Hampshire on Tuesday, said he and Xi had a “good meeting”, and the US and China have a lot of follow-up work to do together on a range of issues. Biden said he made clear to Xi that the US supports Taiwan and wants to see a peaceful, diplomatic resolution of China’s claims to the island.
Xi blamed the tensions on Taiwan seeking US support to achieve independence and some on the American side using Taiwan to contain China, a Chinese statement on the meeting said.
“Such moves are extremely dangerous, just like playing with fire. Whoever plays with fire will get burnt,” the statement said.
Biden and Xi agreed at their virtual meeting to look into the possibility of arms control talks, Sullivan said. The two leaders agreed to “look to begin to carry forward discussions on strategic stability”, Sullivan said in reference to US concerns about China’s nuclear and missile buildup.
“You will see at multiple levels an intensification of the engagement to ensure that there are guardrails around this competition so that it doesn’t veer off into conflict,” Sullivan said in the Brookings webinar.
The US has repeatedly urged China to join it and Russia in a new arms control treaty. Beijing has pointed out the arsenals of the other two countries dwarf its own but indicated China is ready to conduct bilateral dialogues on strategic security.
No breakthroughs were expected in the meeting. Instead, US officials had framed it as an opportunity to place parameters around an increasingly troubled relationship between the two great powers.
Analysts praised the meeting between Xi and Biden saying it appeared to be a start to improving the US-China relationship.
Bruce Jones, a senior fellow in foreign policy at Brookings, described the overall relationship as “in fairly bad shape” and said “the pace of deterioration has outstripped the pace of diplomacy”.
“It’s one thing to engage an ongoing arms race or to kind of balance against China’s military buildup in the western Pacific. But it’s another thing to avoid that spinning up into unwarranted or unwanted conflicts and crises,” Jones told The Associated Press.
Last week, the two countries pledged at UN climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, to speed up action to rein in climate-damaging emissions.
After Xi and Biden’s meeting, China’s state media cited unnamed foreign ministry sources as saying the two sides would ease restrictions on access for journalists from each other’s countries.
The China Daily newspaper said a consensus on journalist visas, among other points, was reached before the virtual meeting. The US State Department said China had committed to issuing visas for a group of eligible US reporters.
Biden and Xi’s meeting sends “positive signals” said Wang Huiyao, president of the Center for China and Globalization, a think tank in Beijing.
“What I what I would hope that this summit would do, and also for the next 12 months or even longer can happen, is that suddenly we see a turning point,” Huiyao told AP.