By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama met with Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner on Sunday at the White House to negotiate ways to avoid the "fiscal cliff," according to White House officials and a congressional aide.
The two sides declined to provide further details about the unannounced meeting. Obama and Boehner aides used the same language to describe it.
"This afternoon, the president and Speaker Boehner met at the White House to discuss efforts to resolve the fiscal cliff," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
"We're not reading out details of the conversation, but the lines of communication remain open," he said.
An aide to Boehner emailed an identical quote.
The two sides are trying to reach an agreement that would stop automatic spending cuts and tax increases from going into effect at the beginning of the year.
Analysts say if that "fiscal cliff" kicks in, the U.S. economy could swing back into a recession.
Obama has made clear he will not accept a deal unless tax rates for the wealthiest Americans rise. Boehner and many of his fellow Republicans say any tax increases would hurt a still fragile economy.
Last week Boehner and Obama spoke by phone, a conversation the Republican leader described as pleasant but unproductive.
The common language used by both men's aides suggests an agreement to keep details of their discussions private, which could help both of them sell less politically palatable aspects of an eventual deal to lawmakers in their respective parties.
Obama consulted with Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, and Harry Reid, the majority leader in the Senate, on Friday, but the high stakes talks have come down primarily to the two main players: the president and Boehner.
Obama has said Boehner and other Republican leaders must accept the reality that tax rates will rise on the top two percent of U.S. earners before progress on other issues, such as reform of entitlement programs, can occur.
Several Republicans said on Sunday that conservatives have no choice but to give in to White House demands on higher tax rates for the wealthy, if the fiscal debate is to move on to their main goal of overhauling big government benefits programs.
"There is a growing group of folks who are ... realizing that we don't have a lot of cards as it relates to the tax issue before yearend," Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee said on the "Fox News Sunday" program.
(Additional reporting by Rachelle Younglai; editing by Stacey Joyce and Todd Eastham)