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U.S. delegation on defensive at talks on climate

Australia signed a pact on global warming, and a U.S. panel voted for greenhouse-gas cuts.

BALI, Indonesia - First Australia won international applause for abandoning the United States and signing a global-warming pact Washington has long opposed. Then a U.S. Senate committee voted for deep cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions.

The Bush administration's position, that technology, private investment and economic growth - rather than mandatory emissions cuts - will save the planet from global warming, is taking a beating this week at a U.N. climate-change conference here.

The public defeats for the Bush stance, coupled with mounting warnings from scientists and others that only decisive action will control rising temperatures, have cast the Americans as wayward sons who need to wake up and join the world.

"I think the United States will be judicious enough to accept the changes of atmosphere," said Indonesian Environment Minister Rachmat Witoelar, the host of the conference on the nation's island of Bali. "I don't think we should pressure them. They will come by themselves."

A lot is at stake. The conference in Bali is charged with launching negotiations that will eventually lead to an international accord to succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Kyoto, which the Bush administration rejected, commits three dozen industrialized countries to cut their greenhouse gases an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels between next year and 2012, when it expires.

The U.S. mission arrived at Bali with the goal of blocking Kyoto-like mandatory-cut targets from getting into the new agreement. Many other countries came in hopes of making a deal the Americans would participate in.

Washington's hand has steadily weakened in the first few days of the two-week conference.

On Monday, newly installed Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd reversed his country's long-standing policy by signing the Kyoto pact, leaving the United States as the only major industrialized country to reject it. The Australians basked in applause and accolades - and Rudd called on the United States to follow his lead.

The next blow was domestic. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a bill Wednesday to cut U.S. emissions from electric power plants, manufacturing and transportation 70 percent by 2050, defying the administration's opposition to mandatory caps.

The bill now goes to the full Senate. While President Bush is expected to veto it if it gets to him, the vote cheered environmentalists and others who have argued that Bush is seriously out of step with Americans' concerns about global warming and their willingness to do something about it.

The vote "sends a positive signal to developing nations in particular that the United States Congress is not going to sit idly by," said David Waskow of the Oxfam humanitarian agency.

That has left the U.S. delegation in Bali struggling to put a positive spin on events.

U.S. climate chief Harlan Watson opened the Americans' two briefings this week by outlining how Washington is fighting global warming its own way, with technology, aid and economic growth. He has denied that the United States feels isolated.

The Bush administration says imposing mandatory emissions cuts will harm economic growth, and it favors individual countries setting their own goals instead.

Yesterday, Watson was adamant that the administration would stick to its guns, no matter what Australia - or the U.S. Senate - did.