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China passes EU in trade with Iran

BEIJING, Feb. 9 (UPI) -- China passed the European Union as the largest trading partner with Iran as economic sanctions and a major gas pipeline loom over Tehran's global relations.

Total trade between China and Iran passed $36.5 billion in 2009, compared with $35 billion for European states, the Financial Times reports.

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Iran funnels much of its trade through the United Arab Emirates, making concrete figures difficult to assess, the Times adds.

Significant portions of Iranian exports to China come from the energy sector, with China relying on Iran to meet 11 percent of its energy needs.

Iranian officials last week suggested China could take the place of India in their plans to build a natural gas pipeline from the South Pars gas field in the Persian Gulf.

Islamabad and Tehran are expected to sign formal agreements on the natural gas pipeline at a ceremony in Ankara set to take place before the weekend.

China, which holds veto power in the U.N. Security Council, is balking on embracing stricter economic sanctions on Iran as the country moves toward enriching uranium to 20 percent in defiance of international pressure.

Tehran said it needs the uranium for medical research, though Western powers worry the enhanced enrichment is a step toward a nuclear weapon.

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