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Climate action sought before Obama arrives

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - With an offer of significant new aid to help poor nations cope with the effects of global warming, the Obama administration began a major diplomatic effort yesterday aimed at saving the troubled climate talks before the president's expected arrival this morning.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark - With an offer of significant new aid to help poor nations cope with the effects of global warming, the Obama administration began a major diplomatic effort yesterday aimed at saving the troubled climate talks before the president's expected arrival this morning.

The United States is pressuring developing countries to agree to emissions cuts along with the industrialized world for the first time, and insisting on transparent monitoring of those reductions. High-ranking U.S. officials were assuring nations behind the scenes that after years of resistance, Washington is also now serious about reducing emissions at home and doing more to prevent global warming.

Concerned that the process had broken down so badly that world leaders would not have a document to consider today, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pushed to establish a small, representative group of nations that could work through the night to produce a text that President Obama and others could use as a basis for final negotiations.

In a private meeting, Clinton told Brazilian officials that a climate change bill that was passed by the House would set aside billions to help preserve tropical rain forests in developing countries.

U.S. negotiators also labored to distinguish themselves from George W. Bush's administration, which did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. In fact, U.S. officials added, the new administration is taking steps with or without Congress to reduce carbon emissions through new fuel standards and other measures. "They are saying, 'Trust us that we can do better,' " said Brazil's climate change ambassador, Sergio Serra.

Though the talks remain fragile, the U.S. moves appeared to rebuild momentum following comments by major participants, most notably the Chinese, that the chances of even a modest deal were fading. The shift happens as the United States backed what amounts to the single biggest transfer of wealth from rich to poor nations for any one cause - in a sense offering compensation for decades of warming the Earth.

Clinton's announcement was quickly followed by an offer from China to open its books on carbon emissions to international review.

Clinton pledged that the United States would help mobilize $100 billion a year in public and private financing by 2020 - an amount that is almost equal to the total value of all developmental aid and concessional loans granted to poor nations by the United States, Europe and other donors this year. She did not specify how much the U.S. government would commit to giving, but a senior administration official said it would be 20 to 30 percent.

Administration officials said they envisioned most of the money coming from private sources, or from revenue generated by a cap-and-trade program, but other sources could include redirecting subsidies to fossil-fuel industries or a tax on bunker fuel.

Senate Republicans were quick to question the move. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who was in Copenhagen yesterday, said in a statement: "Given the current state of our economy, it is shocking that the Obama administration is pledging to hand over billions of dollars to developing nations for a global warming fund."

Any new assistance - as well as Obama's signature on an agreement here, Clinton said - would depend on "transparency" and "monitoring" of emissions cuts. Clinton said the talks must result in an international accord that includes reduction commitments from developed and major developing countries; financial and technological assistance for poor nations; and a way to independently verify the cuts all countries made. Such language is essential to U.S. senators, who have yet to pass climate legislation and would have to ratify any future climate treaty.

Clinton specifically warned that China - which has resisted attempts for international verification of emissions cuts and told officials here before Clinton spoke that a global pact seems unlikely - must agree to monitoring if a deal is to be reached.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei said Beijing had no legal obligation to verify its emissions actions, but was not afraid of supervision or responsibility.

"We will enhance and improve our national communication" to the U.N. on its emissions, He said.

"We're running out of time," Clinton said at a news conference. "Without the accord, the opportunity to mobilize significant resources to assist developing countries with mitigation and adaptation will be lost."

Yet most analysts have diminished expectations for the document that leaders may ultimately sign today. Rather than a formal new treaty, most are expecting a political agreement that would form the basis for a broader, more detailed accord perhaps by mid-2010.

Though a failure of talks here could embarrass the leaders of the 193 countries attending the summit, many heads of state have suggested it would be worse to sign on to a bad agreement.

"Coming back with an empty agreement, I think, would be far worse than coming back empty-handed," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

A Side Meeting on Arms Talks

U.S. officials say President Obama and Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev plan to meet today during the U.N. climate talks as the two countries seek a deal to replace an expired Cold War-era arms-control treaty.

The negotiations for a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty will be the focus of the meeting between the two leaders in Copenhagen, an official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

The White House said earlier this week that it did not expect Obama to sign a nuclear weapons treaty in Copenhagen.

U.S. and Russian negotiators in Geneva have been trying to complete a deal to replace the treaty that expired Dec. 5. It appears a deal is unlikely this year.

- Associated Press