WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama secured a promise from President Hu Jintao of China on Monday to join negotiations on a new package of sanctions against Iran, administration officials said, but Hu made no specific commitment to backing measures that the United States considers severe enough to force a change in direction in Iran’s nuclear program.
In a 90-minute conversation here before the opening of a summit meeting on nuclear security, Obama sought to win more cooperation from China by directly addressing one of the main issues behind Beijing’s reluctance to confront Iran: its concern that Iran could retaliate by cutting off oil shipments to China. The Chinese import nearly 12 percent of their oil from Iran.
Obama assured Hu that he was “sensitive to China’s energy needs” and would work to make sure that Beijing had a steady supply of oil if Iran cut China off in retaliation for joining in severe sanctions.
American officials portrayed the Chinese response as the most encouraging sign yet that Beijing would support an international effort to ratchet up the pressure on Iran and as a sign of “international unity” on stopping Iran’s nuclear program before the country can develop a working nuclear weapon.
Obama also used his meeting with Hu, the fourth face-to-face meeting between the leaders of the world’s largest economy and its biggest lender, to keep up the pressure on Beijing to let market forces push up the value of China’s currency. That is a critical political task for Obama, because the fixed exchange rate has kept Chinese goods artificially cheap and, in the eyes of many experts, handicapped American exports and cost tens of thousands of American jobs.