PHOTO: POOL
Now playing
01:43
Intense battle on Capitol Hill over Iran deal
Iranian women chant slogans during an anti-US demonstration outside the former US embassy headquarters in the capital Tehran on May 9, 2018. - Iranians reacted with a mix of sadness, resignation and defiance on May 9 to US President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal, with sharp divisions among officials on how best to respond.
For many, Trump's decision on Tuesday to pull out of the landmark nuclear deal marked the final death knell for the hope created when it was signed in 2015 that Iran might finally escape decades of isolation and US hostility. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: ATTA KENARE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Iranian women chant slogans during an anti-US demonstration outside the former US embassy headquarters in the capital Tehran on May 9, 2018. - Iranians reacted with a mix of sadness, resignation and defiance on May 9 to US President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal, with sharp divisions among officials on how best to respond. For many, Trump's decision on Tuesday to pull out of the landmark nuclear deal marked the final death knell for the hope created when it was signed in 2015 that Iran might finally escape decades of isolation and US hostility. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:39
How will US pulling out of deal impact Iranians?
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:07
Trump announces withdrawal from Iran deal
PHOTO: Photo Illustration: Getty/Shutterstock/CNNMoney
Now playing
01:55
Breaking down Trump's decision to leave the Iran deal
Iranian lawmakers burn two pieces of papers representing the U.S. flag and the nuclear deal as they chant slogans against the U.S. at the parliament in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, May 9, 2018. Iranian lawmakers have set a paper U.S. flag ablaze at parliament after President Donald Trump's nuclear deal pullout, shouting, "Death to America!". President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal on Tuesday and restored harsh sanctions against Iran. (AP Photo)
PHOTO: AP
Iranian lawmakers burn two pieces of papers representing the U.S. flag and the nuclear deal as they chant slogans against the U.S. at the parliament in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, May 9, 2018. Iranian lawmakers have set a paper U.S. flag ablaze at parliament after President Donald Trump's nuclear deal pullout, shouting, "Death to America!". President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the deal on Tuesday and restored harsh sanctions against Iran. (AP Photo)
Now playing
00:38
Watch: US flag set alight in Iran's parliament
France Nuclear Fallout_00005926.jpg
France Nuclear Fallout_00005926.jpg
Now playing
02:59
Renewed Iran sanctions may hurt France as well
U.S. President Donald Trump answers questions from the press during a meeting with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office October 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump answered a range of questions during the portion of the meeting that was open to the press, including queries on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
PHOTO: Win McNamee/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump answers questions from the press during a meeting with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office October 10, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump answered a range of questions during the portion of the meeting that was open to the press, including queries on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
Now playing
02:04
Years of Trump panning the Iran deal
ISFAHAN, IRAN - MARCH 30:  A worker walks inside of an uranium conversion facility March 30, 2005 just outside the city of Isfahan, about 254 miles (410 kilometers), south of capital Tehran, Iran. The cities of Isfahan and Natanz in central Iran are home to the heart of Iran's nuclear program. The facility in Isfahan makes hexaflouride gas, which is then enriched by feeding it into centrifuges at a facility in Natanz, Iran. Iran's President Mohammad Khatami and the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation Gholamreza Aghazadeh is scheduled to visit the facilities. (Photo by Getty Images)
PHOTO: Getty Images/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
ISFAHAN, IRAN - MARCH 30: A worker walks inside of an uranium conversion facility March 30, 2005 just outside the city of Isfahan, about 254 miles (410 kilometers), south of capital Tehran, Iran. The cities of Isfahan and Natanz in central Iran are home to the heart of Iran's nuclear program. The facility in Isfahan makes hexaflouride gas, which is then enriched by feeding it into centrifuges at a facility in Natanz, Iran. Iran's President Mohammad Khatami and the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation Gholamreza Aghazadeh is scheduled to visit the facilities. (Photo by Getty Images)
Now playing
01:20
Explaining the Iran nuclear deal
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
00:47
John Kerry wants Trump to stay in Iran deal
Now playing
01:47
Rouhani: Pity if rogue newcomers end the deal
President Donald Trump delivers a statement on the Iran nuclear deal from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Tuesday, May 8, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
PHOTO: Evan Vucci/AP
President Donald Trump delivers a statement on the Iran nuclear deal from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Tuesday, May 8, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Now playing
02:42
Trump: US withdrawing from Iran deal
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 04:  Former CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden (Ret.) testifies during a hearing before Senate Armed Services Committee August 4, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the military balance in the Middle East.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Alex Wong/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 04: Former CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden (Ret.) testifies during a hearing before Senate Armed Services Committee August 4, 2015 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the military balance in the Middle East. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Now playing
02:12
Ex-CIA chief: Netanyahu's findings are old news
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presents material on Iranian nuclear weapons development during a press conference in Tel Aviv, Monday, April 30 2018. Netanyahu says his government has obtained "half a ton" of secret Iranian documents proving the Tehran government once had a nuclear weapons program. Calling it a "great intelligence achievement," Netanyahu said Monday that the documents show that Iran lied about its nuclear ambitions before signing a 2015 deal with world powers. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
PHOTO: Sebastian Scheiner/AP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presents material on Iranian nuclear weapons development during a press conference in Tel Aviv, Monday, April 30 2018. Netanyahu says his government has obtained "half a ton" of secret Iranian documents proving the Tehran government once had a nuclear weapons program. Calling it a "great intelligence achievement," Netanyahu said Monday that the documents show that Iran lied about its nuclear ambitions before signing a 2015 deal with world powers. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Now playing
02:15
Responses in wake of Netanyahu's Iran speech
Josh Rogin 01
PHOTO: CNN
Josh Rogin 01
Now playing
01:44
Takeaways from Netanyahu's Iran remarks
PHOTO: pool
Now playing
01:31
Trump: Iran under control of fanatical regime
nikki haley us evidence against iran weapons sot _00013621.jpg
nikki haley us evidence against iran weapons sot _00013621.jpg
Now playing
02:00
Haley: This is concrete evidence against Iran

Story highlights

Negotiators have reached a landmark deal over Iran's nuclear program

China sees economic benefits in Iran ties, authors say

Editor’s Note: Elizabeth Rosenberg is director of the Energy, Economics and Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, and Alexander Sullivan is an associate fellow in the center’s Asia-Pacific Security Program. The views expressed are their own.

(CNN) —  

As members of Congress debate whether to back the deal over Iran’s nuclear program, one source of support seems guaranteed – China. It’s one of the biggest winners in the agreement, with the lifting of sanctions as Iran pulls back key elements of its enrichment program set to allow Beijing to deepen its historic partnership with Tehran. While China is undoubtedly eyeing the potential economic benefits, Beijing also likely sees an opportunity to challenge U.S. influence in the Middle East.

China has been an important critic of Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions and a supporter of nuclear diplomacy. It is therefore likely to hold ranks with the United States and other international partners during the hard work and political turbulence involved in implementing the accord. And if Iran cheats, Beijing can be relied upon to at least join in a strong statement of condemnation – and may go along with the reimposition of sanctions on Iran.

CNN/ORC poll: Majority wants Congress to reject Iran deal

But China also sees an important strategic opportunity in a renewed relationship with Iran, and can be expected to expand its traditional friendship in four key areas: infrastructure development, energy, limited regional security cooperation and political cooperation to dilute U.S. influence in the region.

First, through its “One Belt, One Road” initiative, China aims to link itself with Eurasia and the Middle East through trillions of dollars in infrastructure investment. Sanctions-scarred Iran is in desperate need of new infrastructure and is keen to expand the flow of people and commerce across its borders.

Obama: Some Democrats getting ‘squishy’ in support of Iran deal

Iran is an attractive target for such investment both economically and geopolitically, with its overland borders and proximity to key energy shipping routes. Such commerce will help China and Iran meet their reported target of $160 billion additional trade volume by 2024.

Second, as some of the only foreign energy companies left in Iran under the stranglehold of sanctions, Chinese energy giants are well-placed to invest in Iranian oil and gas development in a post-sanctions environment. The bilateral energy relationship isn’t without disagreements and pique, and China will see real competition in Iran with technically superior European companies. However, Iran and China both have a stake in bolstering their ties in the energy arena. Doing so will support the goals of both nations to diversify their energy partners, balance Saudi Arabia’s oil market dominance and lock in strategic energy trade for the future.

What’s in that Iran bill and why all the fuss about it?

Security cooperation between China and Iran will be a third important feature of their relationship in the post-sanctions era. Once-robust naval cooperation is showing signs of revival. On land, they will no doubt cooperate to try and stabilize Afghanistan following the withdrawal of U.S. and other coalition forces at the end of 2016.

Both nations are deeply invested in preventing ISIS from gaining a foothold in Afghanistan – Iran will not tolerate insurgents on its eastern border, while China fears the spread of radicalism to its restive Uyghur population in neighboring Xinjiang province. Indeed, Chinese President Xi Jinping has already pledged unprecedented security assistance to Afghanistan, and China has reportedly brokered peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

Many lawmakers unswayed by Kerry’s Iran pitch

Unfortunately, the fourth renewed area of Sino-Iranian cooperation may be the expression and amplification of anti-Western, and especially anti-U.S., sentiment. With the nuclear impediment removed, China and Iran are likely to join forces diplomatically in criticizing the United States for its enduring focus on human rights and its international activism. Beijing may also seek to boost Iran’s role in China-led multilateral institutions that do not include the United States, especially the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

True, some forms of China-Iran cooperation are positive for U.S. interests. For example, regional economic development, including in Iran, should be welcomed if it is done according to international best practices and lifts people out of poverty. Likewise, if China can, with Iran’s help, contribute to Afghanistan’s stability, so much the better.

Other forms of China-Iran cooperation, however, have the potential to do serious harm to U.S. policy in the Middle East and beyond. An Iran that is overly dependent on China will bolster Beijing’s efforts to create alternative political forums that exclude Washington. Meanwhile, if the United States does not take a prominent role in Afghanistan’s peaceful reconstruction and the development of Eurasia more broadly, it will cede influence in a pivotal region.

Ultimately, China’s ties to Iran will become an important theater of future U.S.-China relations. The best way to balance China vis-à-vis Iran is to keep Sino-American interests in the Middle East constructive, not competitive. One way would be for the United States to consider sending its own companies into Iran to engage in commercial diplomacy. And it should also seek opportunities for regional security cooperation with China but channel it into inclusive multilateral frameworks.

Taking such steps would help the United States promote stability in the region, solidify its leadership and ensure that China and Iran both see their respective strategic relationships with the United States as more important than the one that they have with each other.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.
Read CNNOpinion’s Flipboard magazine.