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Xi, Obama exchange views on nuclear security, sea disputes at candid talks

Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama on Thursday held candid talks on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington. The pair agreed to enhance global nuclear security cooperation and to work to narrow differences over maritime conflicts in the South China Sea.

"The presidents of the two countries had candid and in-depth exchange of views on a variety of issues ... and reached an important consensus. The meeting was positive, constructive and fruitful," Zheng Zeguang, China's assistant foreign minister, told reporters.

Obama also called jointly with the leaders of Japan and South Korea for further steps to deter North Korea after the country's recent nuclear provocations.

Nuclear security cooperation

"President Xi and I are both committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Obama said before sitting down to meet with Xi. "We're going to discuss how we can discourage actions like nuclear missile tests that escalate tensions and violate international obligations."

Xi and Obama agreed to work together to foil North Korea's nuclear ambitions by "fully", "strictly" and "vigilantly" carrying out the UN resolution on sanctions.

But Zheng said that Xi also told Obama that China was "firmly opposed" to US plans to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, missile defense system in South Korea after North Korea's fourth nuclear test in January and a rocket launch into space in February.

"Such deployment will undermine China's security interests and will affect this region's strategic balance," he said.

The US has long pressured China to use its influence to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program.

The two presidents also agreed joint efforts to combat nuclear terrorism and established an annual bilateral dialogue.

South China Sea disputes

Zheng made clear that China and the US remained at odds over the contested South China Sea, where Beijing's broad territorial claims have riled its neighbors.

Xi told Obama that he hoped Washington would "strictly" abide by its commitment not to take a position on sovereignty issues and instead play a constructive role to maintain peace and stability, Zheng said.

"The hope is that all parties will correctly view and handle the South China Sea and adopt an objective and impartial attitude ... particularly countries outside this region," he said.

China's official Xinhua News Agency also quoted Xi as warning that China would not accept violations of its sovereignty in the name of freedom of navigation - a reference to air and naval patrols the US has conducted within what China considers its territorial waters.

The US says it takes no sides in the disputes but wants to ensure free navigation. It has said it will increase what it calls freedom-of-navigation operations by its Navy ships through the waters.

China and the US accuse each other of militarizing the region, one of the world's busiest waterways, and have had close naval encounters in recent months.

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