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Mr. Rhodes also painted a favorable picture of Mr. Obama’s meeting with the Chinese president, saying afterward that Mr. Hu “absolutely” agreed that North Korea should reverse its announcement of the launch.

“It’s absolutely the case that the Chinese have indicated to us they’re taking it very seriously,” Mr. Rhodes said. “We’ll see how events unfold.”

But Mr. Rhodes also said Mr. Obama tried to impress on the Chinese leader that there is a “bigger picture” when dealing with the North Koreans. He said the proposed launch is “in line with typical North Korean behavior over many years.”

North Korea has announced that it will launch a satellite atop a long-range missile in mid-April, which the U.S. and other nations say would be a violation of U.N. resolutions barring the use of technology that could be used for nuclear weaponry. The North’s announcement came just two weeks after the Obama administration had agreed to supply the impoverished, isolated nation with food aid in exchange for a suspension of North Korea’s nuclear programs.

Since the North’s announcement, Mr. Obama has been emphasizing that the U.S. won’t “reward” bad behavior. Mr. Rhodes strongly suggested that means the food aid would be withdrawn if North Korea proceeds with the missile launch.

Mr. Rhodes also said Mr. Obama discussed trade issues with the Chinese leader at the end of their meeting, but it was a minor portion of the discussion. The Obama administration earlier this month formally complained to the World Trade Organization about China’s alleged unfair trade practices in limiting the sale of certain rare-earth materials used in the manufacture of high-tech devices.