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China: a lifeline for Iran and its oil exports?

As Europe and the US tighten sanctions on Iran, China remains the largest buyer of Iranian oil and has played down economic sanctions as an effective way to influence Tehran.

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There were few signs that US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner had any success during his visit to Beijing this month to persuade China to help pressure Tehran over its nuclear program by buying less Iranian oil.

"China's regular demand for energy has nothing to do with the nuclear issue and it should not be affected," Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said Jan. 11, after Mr. Geithner met with top Chinese leaders.

China is Iran's largest oil and gas client, and Beijing has consistently played down economic sanctions as an effective way to influence Tehran, or any other government.

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"Few issues can be solved by sanctions," says Tao Wenzhao, a foreign-affairs analyst at the government-sponsored China Academy of Social Sciences. "We think that the correct way to resolve international issues is through negotiations."

But while Beijing's reluctance to go along with United States sanctions came as little surprise, at the same time there seemed equally little chance that China would increase its Iranian oil intake to help Tehran if other countries cut back their purchases.

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