WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed to work together on Iranian nuclear sanctions Monday, in an apparent breakthrough spurred by thawing US-China relations.
Obama and Hu met in Washington ahead of a 47-nation nuclear security summit and sent soothing signals after stormy public rows over Taiwan, Tibet, economics and currency issues.
After months of painstaking diplomacy, Obama appeared to have convinced Hu to join the drive for toughened United Nations sanctions on Iran over its nuclear aspirations, though there was no public sign of agreement on specifics.
"The Chinese very clearly share our concern about the Iranian nuclear program," said Jeff Bader, Obama's senior director for Asia on the National Security Council.
"The two presidents agreed the two delegations should work together on a sanctions resolution in New York," Bader said.
A senior official with Hu's delegation said Beijing would work with Washington on sanctions, which Obama wants to enact within weeks.
"China and the United States share the same overall goal on the Iranian nuclear issue," said Ma Zhaoxu, spokesman for the Chinese delegation.
Ma reiterated that China also wanted talks between world powers and Iran to go on in an effort to resolve the confrontation. Washington says Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons, a claim Iran denies.
Last week at the UN, envoys of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany discussed a draft resolution sanctioning Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards, and agreed to meet again soon.
Iran has become increasingly defiant, as Russia and China, veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council that were skeptical of sanctions at first, have moved towards the US position.
Iran, along with North Korea, was not invited to the summit, and says it not be bound by any decisions made here.
And Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei slammed Obama on Sunday for threatening a "nuclear attack" after the US leader declined to renounce the use of nuclear weapons in defending America against Tehran.
Obama and Hu met amid expectations that China may shortly allow its currency to rise moderately, following pressure from world trade powers who say the yuan is kept unnaturally low to boost exports.
Obama said it was "important for... a sustained and balanced global economic recovery that China move toward a more market-oriented exchange rate," said Bader.
But US officials were scrupulously careful to avoid public pressure on China over the currency -- a highly delicate issue.
Ma said that the presidents agreed to the two sides should resolve trade frictions through consultations on an equal footing.
Monday's meeting also appeared to show a thaw in the previously rather formal ties which officials said had previously existed between Obama and Hu.
"It was a meeting without talking points -- a conversation between two leaders who are familiar and comfortable talking with each other about bilateral relations and where they stand," Bader said.
Ma described Monday's talks as "candid" and "cordial," adding it was "a positive and constructive meeting."
A Sino-US chill set in after Obama visited Beijing last November, over issues including the yuan, trade, a US arms package for nationalist Taiwan, the US leaders talks with the Dalai Lama and Internet freedom.
A surprise visit to Beijing last week by US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, a US decision to push back a report that could brand Beijing a "currency manipulator" and a long telephone call between Hu and Obama also cooled tensions.
The mood was less cordial however outside the heavily secured convention center hosting the nuclear summit, where scores of chanting Tibetans and silently meditating Falungong practitioners staged a peaceful protest.
"Hu Jintao, free Tibet! Wake up, wake up, USA! Wake up, wake up, Obama!" shouted the Tibetans, many waving the yellow, red, blue and white flag of the remote Himalayan region invaded by Chinese troops in 1950.
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