REUTERS - Chinese President Xi Jinping met his Iranian counterpart on Saturday in Tehran, where they discussed how to improve economic and political ties after international sanctions on Iran were lifted.
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Xi was welcomed by President Hassan Rohani in Sa'dabad palace in northern Tehran. The Chinese president will meet Iran's most powerful figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, later in the day.
"China is seeking to improve bilateral ties with Iran to start a new season of comprehensive, long-term and sustainable relations with the Islamic Republic," President Xi was quoted as saying by Iran's state news agency, IRNA, on his arrival in Tehran on Friday night.
"Some 16 accords, including a strategic cooperation agreement, will be signed during the Chinese President's Iran visit," Deputy Foreign Minister Ebrahim Rahimpour said, according to state television.
Trade between Iran and China stood at around $52 billion in 2014, Rahimpour said, but falling oil prices caused it to drop last year.
The Chinese president is the first leader to visit Iran since international sanctions were lifted on Jan 16, after Iran reached an agreement with six major powers to limit its nuclear programme. China was one of the six.
Xi is also the first Chinese president to visit Iran in 14 years, according to the Iranian state news agency, IRNA. He has visited Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well during his Middle East tour, which started on Jan. 19.
Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia, Xi's first stop, has been at odds with Shi'ite Iran since Saudi authorities executed a Shi'ite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, on Jan. 2. Riyadh severed ties with Tehran after Iranian protesters stormed the kingdom's embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad.
China has called on both countries to exercise calm and restraint.