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China's Xi: Iran Tensions Worrying, Calls for Restraint

China's President Xi Jinping speaks at a press conference at the end of the final day of the Belt and Road Forum at the China National Convention Centere at the Yanqi Lake venue, outside Beijing, April 27, 2019.

A rise in tensions in the Middle East owing to U.S. pressure on Iran is worrying and all parties need to exercise restraint, Chinese President Xi Jinping told Russian media ahead of a visit to the country.

Tensions between Iran and the United States have escalated in the past month, a year after the United States pulled out of a deal between Iran and global powers to curb Tehran's nuclear program in return for lifting sanctions.

Washington reimposed sanctions last year and tightened them sharply at the start of last month, ordering all countries to halt imports of Iranian oil. It has also hinted at military confrontation, sending extra forces to the region to counter what it describes as Iranian threats.

Xi told TASS news agency and Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper that because of the "extreme pressure" Washington has put on Tehran and the unilateral sanctions, tensions have continued to rise in the Middle East.

"The development of the situation is worrying," Xi said, according to a transcript published by China's Foreign Ministry ahead of his arrival in Russia on Wednesday.

The Iran nuclear deal should be fully implemented and respected, as it is of crucial importance for peace and stability in the Middle East and non-proliferation, Xi added.

"China and Russia's views and positions on the Iran nuclear issue are highly aligned, and both hope that all relevant parties remain rational and exercise restraint, step up dialogue and consultations and lower the temperature on the present tense situation," he said.

China has been angered by U.S. threats against countries and companies that violate U.S. sanctions by importing Iranian oil.

China and Iran have close energy ties.

Xi did not directly address the oil sanctions issue, but appeared to allude to them by saying: "China will continue to firmly safeguard its own legitimate and lawful rights and interests."