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Sanctions now lifted, China seeks 'new chapter' with Iran

China and Iran plan to improve bilateral relations and increase trade after international sanctions were lifted under a historic nuclear deal.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping, left, is welcomed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during his official arrival ceremony at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016.

Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

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Chinese President Xi Jinping said Saturday he hopes for a "new chapter" in relations with Iran after the lifting of international sanctions under a historic nuclear deal, as he paid the first visit by a Chinese leader to the Islamic Republic in 14 years.

The two countries have also agreed to increase trade to $600 billion in the next 10 years, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, according to Reuters.

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"In cooperation with the Iranian side and by benefiting from the current favorable conditions, China is ready to upgrade the level of bilateral relations and cooperation so that a new chapter will start in bilateral relations," Xi said after meeting with Rouhani, according to Iranian state TV.

Trade between the two countries stood at some $52 billion in 2014, but that figure dropped last year due to plunging oil prices. China is Iran's biggest trade partner, and continued purchasing oil from Iran after nuclear-related sanctions were tightened in 2012, despite U.S. pressure.

"China has always stood by the side of the Iranian nation during hard days," Rouhani said, in comments posted on his official website.

Officials from the two countries signed 17 documents and letters of intent to broaden bilateral cooperation in industry, transportation, railways, ports, new technology, tourism, the environment and energy.

China is one of six world powers -- along with the U.S., Germany, France, Britain and Russia -- that reached a landmark agreement with Iran last summer to lift international sanctions in exchange for Tehran curbing its nuclear program. The deal was implemented a week ago after the U.N. nuclear watchdog certified that Iran had fulfilled all its commitments.