Iran's President Hassan Rouhani shakes hands with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping before the opening ceremony of the fourth Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit in Shanghai May 21, 2014.
Mark Ralston / Reuters

Scattered among the hundreds of kiosks that made up the massive China–Eurasia Expo held in the western Chinese city of Urumqi in late September were a handful of Iranian rug merchants plying their wares. They didn’t seem to sell much, but they weren’t worried. The merchants, like the Iranian government itself, were looking ahead—and there are plenty of opportunities these days, particularly in China.

Inaugurated in 2011, the yearly Expo has become part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s much-touted “One Belt One Road” initiative. An outgrowth of the larger foreign policy expansion that accompanied Xi’s ascent to power in 2013, One Belt One Road is an ambitious attempt to revive the ancient trading route known as the Silk Road through economic (and eventually political) partnership with countries to China’s west.

Iran is one of those nations. Once an international pariah, the Islamic Republic is now

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