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Abu Dhabi, UAE (CNN)Shortly before leaving for his first state visit to China on Tuesday, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi issued a thinly veiled criticism of his powerful ally, saying the two countries' relationship has not lived up to expectations.
The first Iranian president to arrive in China on a state visit in two decades, Raisi was keen to tell Beijing that it has not given enough support to Tehran, especially economically.
"Unfortunately, I must say that we have seriously fallen behind in these relations," he said, referring to trade and economic ties. Part of his mission, he said, was to implement the China-Iran Strategic Partnership Plan (CISPP), a pact that would see Beijing invest up to $400 billion in Iran's economy over a 25-year period in exchange for a steady supply of Iranian oil.
Raisi said that economic ties had regressed, and that the two nations needed to compensate for that.
The public criticism on the eve of the landmark trip demonstrated the heavily-sanctioned Islamic Republic's disappointment with an ally that has in many ways become one of its few economic lifelines.
The speech was likely "a reflection of Tehran's frustration with China's hesitancies about deepening its economic ties with Iran," Henry Rome, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told CNN. "The same issues that have constrained China-Iran relations for years appear to remain."
Analysts said Raisi's speech was a clear call for China to live up to its end of the relationship, seeking economic guarantees from the Asian power so he can have something to show at home amid a wave of anti-government protests and increasing global isolation.