Obama sees breakthrough with China

The White House on Monday hailed what it considers a breakthrough on imposing tough sanctions on Iran by securing support from China.

The Obama administration asserted that China has agreed to put pressure on Iran to end its nuclear program. The agreement comes during a rocky period in U.S.-China relations amid significant disputes over currency, trade sanctions and censorship of Google.

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President Barack Obama, who conferred with world leaders in Washington on Monday as he intensified his push to curb the threat of nuclear terrorism, immediately scored two major victories.

The president met with Chinese President Hu Jintao Monday for more than an hour, and the White House said the two men agreed to increase pressure on Iran. The pact is a win for Obama because China could have vetoed sanctions because of its oil interests in Iran.

“They are prepared to work with us,” said Jeff Bader, Obama’s national security council assistant for China.

“The two presidents agreed to instruct their delegations to work with the ... U.N. Security Council representatives on a sanctions resolution,” Bader said. “The resolution will make clear to Iran the costs of pursuing a nuclear program that violates Iran’s obligations and responsibilities.”

Officials said the presidents had not agreed to any details of what the sanctions might entail.

Iran recently indicated that China would take part in a nuclear disarmament conference in Tehran later this month, but Monday’s announcement suggests that is unlikely.

Obama said in recent weeks he planned to continue to pressure Hu and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev — the lone holdouts on the United Nations Security Council — to join the U.S. and others in pushing for tougher Iran sanctions.

Administration officials were encouraged last week when Medvedev appeared to be thawing further in his opposition to sanctions, a thawing that increased the spotlight on China.

Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said the White House still expects “a resolution this spring, which would be a matter of weeks.”

Obama scored another triumph at his nuclear security summit Monday afternoon by announcing that Ukraine has agreed to give up its entire stockpile of highly enriched uranium.

White House officials warned Monday and last week that extremist groups like al Qaeda are working hard to acquire those materials and weapons.

White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan, acknowledging ongoing concerns about the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran, said that “while there are many different nuclear issues that the administration is addressing, there is none more important than this one.

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“That is why we are focusing specifically on nuclear terrorism and nuclear security over the next two days,” Brennan said. “Because these issues must be addressed with a sense of focus and urgency.”

In addition to removing its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, Ukraine will also convert its civil nuclear research laboratories to working with low-enriched uranium fuel, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

“This is something that the United States has tried to make happen for more than 10 years,” Gibbs said. “The material is enough to construct several nuclear weapons. And this demonstrates Ukraine’s continued leadership in nonproliferation and comes in an important region where we know a lot of highly enriched uranium exists.”

The president held a series of bilateral meetings with foreign leaders Sunday and Monday. Obama was set to welcome each delegation to the summit Monday evening before hosting a working dinner at the Washington Convention Center, where the summit is being held.

Obama spoke briefly to a small group of reporters Monday afternoon at the White House before returning to the convention center for the welcoming and dinner.

The president said so far the summit has been “impressive.”

“I think it’s an indication of how deeply concerned everybody should be with the possibilities of nuclear traffic, and I think at the end of this we’re going to see some very specific, concrete actions that each nation is taking that will make the world a little bit safer,” Obama said.