U.S. leans on China to use influence with Iran to cool Middle East tensions

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (R) attends a bilateral meeting with Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao (front L) at the Ministry of Commerce in Beijing on October 9, 2023.

Andy Wong | Afp | Getty Images

BEIJING — U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday the congressional delegation to China asked Beijing to use its influence with Iran to prevent the Israel-Hamas conflict from spreading.

“A bunch of us made the request that China use its influence on Iran to not allow a conflagration to spread,” Schumer told reporters in a briefing.

“They have influence with Iran in many different ways,” he said. “And we asked them to do everything they could to not have Iran spread this conflagration through themselves and through Hezbollah.”

“The Chinese said they would deliver the message to the Iranians,” U.S. officials said at the briefing, in response to a question.

Schumer and five other U.S. senators representing both the Republican and Democratic parties met with Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier on Monday, among other high-level meetings.

The meeting lasted about 80 minutes, Schumer said, about twice what had been expected.

“We’re deeply saddened by the civilian casualties and oppose and condemn acts that harm civilians,” Mao Ning, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry said in a regular press conference Monday, according to an official English transcript.

“We oppose moves that escalate the conflict and destabilize the region and hope fighting will stop and peace will return soon,” Mao said.

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When asked about China’s communications with Iran, she said: “We would like to once again call on relevant parties to immediately stop the fighting, protect civilians and avoid further deterioration of the situation.”

The transcript and a statement Sunday from the ministry did not mention the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and has been designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and the European Union.

The unprecedented nature of Hamas’ assault raised concerns that Iran may have been involved, given Tehran’s long-time support for Hamas and its cause.

Ghazi Hamad, a Hamas spokesman, told the BBC that the group had direct backing for the attack from Iran. The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that Iranian security officials helped with the planning and approved the attack at a meeting in Beirut last Monday. Three U.S. officials told NBC News they were unable to corroborate the Journal account.

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