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Obama-Hu phone call signals a renewed connection

President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao discussed U.S.-led efforts to impose new sanctions on Iran in a lengthy telephone call that signaled tensions between the two countries may be easing.

The call late Thursday, which came after Hu announced he would attend a nuclear summit in Washington this month, lasted so long that Air Force One had to linger on the tarmac for 10 minutes after landing in the capital from an out-of-town trip to enable Obama to finish the conversation.

The U.S. and its European allies want to impose punitive sanctions on Iran for pursuing what they believe is a nuclear weapons program, but China has balked at going along. However, it has begun taking part in talks about sanctions at the U.N. Security Council. Iran maintains that its nuclear aims are peaceful.

In the call to Hu, Obama emphasized his eagerness to have China press Iran to “live up to its international obligations” on its nuclear program, the White House said in a statement.

China’s participation in the Security Council conversations has been interpreted as a sign of a change of policy. But some diplomats close to the talks said the Chinese had not committed to vote for sanctions. Some analysts have predicted that China would take part in discussions to water down the resolution and then ultimately abstain from the vote.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Friday that the country’s position was unchanged.

“We will continue to push for a peaceful settlement of the issue and stay in communication and consultation of various forms with parties concerned,” Qin said.

Obama predicted Friday that new sanctions would have broad international support.

“I have said before that we don’t take any options off the table, and we’re going to continue to ratchet up the pressure and examine how they respond,” Obama said in a CBS interview. “But we’re going to do so with a unified international community that puts us in a much stronger position.”

Frictions between the two countries rose sharply this year as the United States approved a large arms sale to Taiwan and Obama met with Tibet’s Dalai Lama. But in recent days, there have been signs that the two countries, closely linked by economic interests, are seeking to avoid a serious disruption in their relationship.

Douglas Paal, a former U.S. official at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he saw the moves “as sort of closing the door on this episode” between the countries. Despite reports of discord, on a working level “there’s been a pretty steady-as-you-go policy implementation,” Paal said.

paul.richter@latimes.com


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