The Obama administration Thursday welcomed the decision by Chinese President Hu Jintao to attend the U.S.-organized Nuclear Security Summit in Washington later this month. U.S. officials also say China will be a full participant in negotiations on new nuclear sanctions against Iran.
China's long-running hesitation to name a delegation to the summit being hosted by President Obama had been a source of concern here.
But in the wake of Thursday's announcement that President Hu will attend, U.S. officials say a tense period in bilateral relations may be easing, and that China may join in a new round of U.N. sanctions against Iran.
The Iranian nuclear issue is expected to be a major issue in bilateral meetings between the Chinese leader and President Obama and other officials on the sidelines of the two-day nuclear summit opening April 12.
Both the White House and State Department welcomed the announcement that China is sending a senior delegation to the event, aimed at strengthening the international nuclear non-proliferation regime - especially safeguarding against nuclear terrorism.
Among permanent U.N. Security Council members, China has been a holdout against efforts at a new round of sanctions against Iran for what U.S. official believe, despite Iranian denials, to be a drive for nuclear weapons by Tehran.
But State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley Thursday welcomed what he said were indications China is now willing to be a full participant in negotiations on the specifics of a new sanctions resolution. "China and the United States have the same strategic goal here. No one wants to see the emergence of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. We have had differences and some of those differences remain in terms of how best to achieve our strategic objective. But I think the fact that China has indicated its willingness to engage in the substance of this issue we think is clearly a welcome step," he said.
President Obama said Tuesday he hopes a new sanctions resolution can be approved in a matter of weeks, not months, in order to convince Iran that its defiance of the world community will have real costs.
U.S. officials have spoken of the desirability of getting what would be a fourth sanctions resolution against Iran through the council this month while Japan, a strong supporter of punitive action, is the Security Council president.
U.S.-Chinese relations have soured in recent months over an announcement of new U.S. defensive weapons sales to Taiwan, a February meeting by President Obama with Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, and U.S. complaints about Chinese Internet censorship.
China is also concerned about Congressional pressure on the administration to name China a currency manipulator because of its huge trade surplus with the United States.
But Crowley downplayed a suggestion that China's decision to attend the summit was linked to administration concessions on the trade issue, saying Beijing's announcement should be taken at face value and seen as a reflection of the importance it attaches to non-proliferation.