LE BOURGET, France - President Obama said Tuesday that parts of the global-warming deal being negotiated in Paris should be legally binding on the countries that sign on, setting up a potential fight at home.
Obama's stand won praise at the U.N. conference from those who want a strong agreement to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gas. But it could rile conservatives in Washington, especially if he tries to put the deal into effect without seeking congressional approval.
The administration has pledged during the talks to reduce U.S. emissions by up to 28 percent by 2025. But inscribing the emissions target in the Paris deal would probably require him to submit the pact to the GOP-controlled Congress, where it would be unlikely to win ratification.
So the administration is looking to keep the targets out while including binding procedures on when and how countries should periodically review and raise their targets.
"Although the targets themselves may not have the force of treaties, the process, the procedures that ensure transparency and periodic reviews, that needs to be legally binding," Obama said in Paris, "and that's going to be critical."
Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee and a fierce critic of Obama's policies, fired back immediately.
"The U.S. Senate will not be ignored," he said in a statement. "If the president wishes to sign the American people up to a legally binding agreement, the deal must go through the Senate. There is no way around it."
The White House previously said parts of the deal should be legally binding, but this is the first time Obama has said it himself and spelled out which ones.
Obama's comments brought relief to the French hosts, who were worried about whether the U.S. wanted a binding deal at all after Secretary of State John Kerry told the Financial Times that the agreement was "definitely not going to be a treaty" and that there was "not going to be legally binding reduction targets."
Top Republicans have warned other countries not to trust any deal Obama may strike. Other GOP politicians moved to block Obama's plan to force steep cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions.
On Tuesday, the House passed two resolutions disapproving Obama's rules to reduce carbon emissions from power plants despite a promised veto.
At a news conference, House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked whether Congress was out of step with public opinion on climate change.
"I don't think we're out of step with public opinion wanting jobs, wanting economic growth, weighing the costs and the benefits," Ryan said.
At the Paris talks, the European Union has called for a legally binding agreement with emissions targets, but observers said it was likely to drop that demand over the next two weeks of negotiations to make sure the U.S. can join the deal.
"I think at end of the day everyone knows that for the U.S. to be part of this, it can't have the emissions target itself legally embedded in the treaty," said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Nigel Purvis, a former U.S. climate negotiator and president of the nongovernmental Climate Advisers, said Obama had all the legal authority he needed to enter an accord where only some elements were binding.
Earlier in the day, Obama met with leaders of island nations who fear their countries will be swallowed up by rising seas. The Hawaii-born Obama said he understood the beauty and fragility of island life and called their populations among the most vulnerable.