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Obama: Imperfect Climate Pact Is Better Than None

In this photo released by the White House, President Obama talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during a bilateral meeting Friday at the U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen.
Pete Souza
In this photo released by the White House, President Obama talks with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during a bilateral meeting Friday at the U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen.

A clearly frustrated President Obama displayed impatience Friday with world leaders' failure to reach a new climate accord, urging them to accept a less-than-perfect pact while offering no new U.S. concessions.

Obama said the United States has acted boldly by vowing to reduce heat-trapping gasses and help other nations pay for similar efforts.

But he indirectly acknowledged that some countries feel the United States is not doing enough, and he said an imperfect accord is better than an impasse.

"No country will get everything that it wants," Obama said in a brief address to the 193 nations gathered here to cap a climate summit stalemated after two weeks of talks.

Without mentioning China specifically, he addressed Beijing's resistance to making its emissions-reduction pledges subject to international review.

"I don't know how you have an international agreement where we all are not sharing information and making sure we are meeting our commitments," Obama said. "That doesn't make sense. It would be a hollow victory."

Obama later met privately with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao for nearly an hour to discuss emissions targets, financing and transparency. A senior Obama administration official said the two took "a step forward," which led them to direct aides to work on a possible agreement. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the leaders' private talk.

In his speech to the assembled leaders, Obama said: "We are running short on time."

"We are ready to get this done today," he said. "But there has to be movement on all sides."

And yet Obama arrived in snow-covered Copenhagen with no new proposal from the U.S. side. Some had hoped he might increase Washington's emissons-cut pledge, now only a fraction of those from other developed countries, or put a specific dollar amount on America's expected contributions to short- or long-term aid funds to help poorer nations deal with the effects of climate change.

Obama planned to spend only about nine hours at the summit. He was holding a series of large and small meetings with various leaders, including those from China and Russia.

His talks with Chinese Premier Wen were being watched especially closely, as sniping between the two countries dominated the summit earlier this week.

With Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the main topic was likely to be nuclear weapons. The two nations are negotiating to replace an expired Cold War-era arms control treaty.

The U.S. commitment to reduce greenhouse gasses mirrors legislation before Congress. It calls for 17 percent reduction in such pollution from 2005 levels by 2020 — the equivalent of 3 percent to 4 percent from the more commonly used baseline of 1990 levels. That is far less than the offers from the European Union, Japan and Russia.

Even that target was hard-won in a skittish Congress, and Obama has decided he can't go further without potentially souring final passage of the bill, approved in the House but not yet considered in the Senate. He also could imperil eventual Senate ratification of any global treaty that emerges next year.

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