Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed in a face-to-face meeting with President Obama on Monday to pursue new economic sanctions against Iran, but stopped short of committing his government’s support for the additional strictures aimed at persuading Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions.
In a 90-minute White House meeting, Hu told Obama that China and the United States “share the same overall goal on the Iranian nuclear issue,” said a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ma Zhaoxu.
The U.S. and other leading Western nations believe Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons; Tehran, which has been subjected to three rounds of sanctions since 2006, says its nuclear program is for civilian power purposes only.
After Obama’s diplomatic overtures to Iran were rejected last year, the White House has pushed steadily for a new round of United Nations sanctions against Iran.
U.S. officials portrayed the Hu-Obama meeting -- held just hours before the beginning of a two-day summit on nuclear security -- in positive terms.
“They’re prepared to work with us,” said Jeffrey Bader, a White House National Security Council official.
A senior administration official said the Chinese leaders “agree that Iran must face consequences if they fail to live up to their obligations.”
Hu’s comments may have been short of a breakthrough, however, because Chinese diplomats have been actively discussing proposed new sanctions in New York for several weeks.
A “no” vote by China, which wields veto power at the U.N., would block new sanctions. Even an abstention would damage efforts by the West to show a united front against Tehran.
Some analysts have predicted that China eventually will press to water down new sanctions during negotiations, then abstain from a final vote.
U.S. officials said Monday’s one-on-one meeting, which came at a moment of warming relations between the countries, was largely devoted to Iran. It took place before the opening of the 47-country nuclear summit hosted by Obama in Washington.
Obama also raised the issue of China’s currency, but officials did not disclose any agreement after the meeting. U.S. officials contend the yuan’s low value damages U.S. competitiveness and have urged China to allow it to float upward. The meeting with Hu was the most significant in a series of bilateral sessions Obama held just before the nuclear conference.
The White House announced Monday that Ukraine agreed to give up all of its nuclear material by 2012.
White House officials said the United States was a possible destination for nuclear material from the former Soviet republic, once the site of one of the largest nuclear arsenals in the world.
Analysts described Ukraine’s move as a positive step but said there had been little doubt Ukraine would follow through on its promises to get rid of the nuclear material. The country was scarred by the collapse of the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl.
Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said Ukraine “has been a very responsible partner on this.”
Obama also met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan.
Obama is expected to press Erdogan for cooperation on the Iranian sanctions. Turkey is one of the nonpermanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and Turkish officials have signaled their reluctance to impose more economic punishments on their neighbor.
Although the summit drew more than 40 world leaders, it attracted few protesters, compared with other major international meetings.
For most of the day, fewer than 100 protesters gathered along the perimeter of the Washington Convention Center, according to police estimates.
Some held signs in support of an independent Tibet, others called for religious freedom for the Falun Gong, a spiritual group outlawed in China.
On Monday night, a group was scheduled to protest alleged human rights violations in Vietnam. Police said there were no disruptions.