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Chinese President Hu to attend Washington nuclear meet

By Emma Graham-Harrison

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese President Hu Jintao will attend a summit on nuclear security in Washington this month, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Thursday, adding to signs that tensions between the two nations are ebbing.

China had been coy for weeks about whether Hu would go to the multi-nation meeting hosted by President Barack Obama.

It will open days before the U.S. Treasury is due to release a report on whether China is "manipulating" its currency exchange rate to boost its exports.

A finding that it is distorting the yuan would anger Beijing and embarrass Hu, especially if it occurs days after photos of him shaking hands with Obama.

Hu's attendance at the summit therefore suggests China sees that as unlikely, at least soon after the summit, an analyst said.

The release of the semi-annual report, due this time on April 15, has sometimes been postponed in the past.

"I doubt the U.S. will name China a currency manipulator. That would make China very uncomfortable. President Hu wouldn't go if he thought that was likely," said Wang Zhimin, an international relations expert at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Hu would attend the April 12-13 summit, but declined to say if there would be a bilateral meeting between the two presidents.

The relationship between Beijing and Washington has been dogged in recent months by disputes spanning China's currency and Internet controls, U.S. arms sales to the self-ruled island of Taiwan, and Obama's meeting with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

But both sides have recently signaled they are keen to improve one of the world's most important relationships between the world's largest and third largest economies.

"The China-U.S. relationship...is an important bilateral relationship, and I hope it can follow the path of long-term, healthy, stable and comprehensive development," Qin told a regular news conference, after announcing Hu's visit.

CHINA'S HELP NEEDED ON IRAN

Domestic U.S. political pressure has been building on the Obama administration to label China a "currency manipulator."

But if it does so, the slap would come just as ties are improving, and at a time when Washington is seeking help on diplomatic issues such as a drive to impose new sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

"The United States has to consider that it also needs cooperation on issues like Iran," said Wang.

The meeting itself carries almost no risk of creating new strains as it focuses not on reducing nuclear weapon stockpiles worldwide, but on the less controversial issue of "securing" nuclear material to prevent it falling into the wrong hands.

Beijing also appears intent on damping public ire toward the United States, despite anger on Tibet and Taiwan, which most mainland residents say are indisputably part of China.

On Thursday, an often nationalist state-owned newspaper, the Global Times, said Hu should attend the summit, arguing that it was important for a country of China's stature to be present.

After the nuclear meeting, Hu is scheduled to attend a summit of Brazil, Russia, India and China in Brasilia. He will then travel to Venezuela, a long-term ally and supplier of crude oil, and Chile, an important source of minerals.

(Additional reporting by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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