WASHINGTON - The Obama administration called China's decision to attend a summit on nuclear security later this month in Washington "an important step."
"It's a very important step," White House spokesman Bill Burton said. "We're going to continue that process and the president thinks that this spring we're going to be able to be in a place where there's an agreement of those nations to apply real pressure to Iran," Burton said.
In an hour-long phone conversation with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Thursday, following Beijing's decision to attend the summit, Obama discussed, among other things, a new set of sanctions against Iran.
Obama issued a statement afterward saying the upcoming conference would provide an "important opportunity for them to address their shared interest in stopping nuclear proliferation and protecting against nuclear terrorism."
Hu, for his part, said the U.S. and China should "respect each other's core interests and major concerns and properly handle differences and sensitive issues."
Meanwhile, following Thursday's visit to Beijing by Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi urged "all sides to enhance diplomatic efforts and demonstrate flexibility" in resolving the Iranian nuclear issue.
Many analysts believe that China and Russia will make sure to protect their energy ties with Iran.
"We need to be very careful that we don't buy into the American language of optimism and trumpeting some kind of breakthrough when really, it's only a very small step on a very long way to sanctions against Iran," Al Jazeera reporter Cath Turner said in New York.
"Looking very closely at what has been agreed on, there is a long way to go until China is supposed to be supporting a draft resolution for sanctions on Iran," Turner said.
On Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice called China's willingness "to sit down and begin serious negotiations here in New York" a "first step toward getting the entire U.N. Security Council on board with a tough sanctions regime against Iran."