The Copenhagen Accord: Obama strong arms the world

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In Copenhagen, he uses the stick, not the carrot.

COPENHAGEN–He may not have wowed this city on arrival, but President Obama walked into a meeting of the world’s most powerful developing nations last night, divided his opposition, and pressed the larger United Nations assembly into salvaging these two weeks of talks with the 2 1/2-page document that will forever be known to history as the Copenhagen Accord.

This brief history may help to cut through the fog of reporting that has besieged the world in the last 24 hours:

• At his 10:30 p.m. press briefing yesterday, Obama never said the conference had reached an agreement, as has been widely reported. He said different things at different times, none of which made a decisive claim about an overall deal.

Specifically, he said that a number of major countries had established a new consensus, and that five countries (the U.S., China, India, Brazil and South Africa) had agreed on major issues. (full text of press briefing here)

It’s quite clear now, and was reasonably evident then, that the consensus and the agreement were two different instances. Most of the press took them as one.

• At the press conference, Obama passed up numerous opportunities to dispel the implication that the conference had reached wider agreement, but like a good attorney, he never said as much.

He did not yet have the support of vital blocks of nations, including the European Union, Africa, and the small island states. This was the basis for some of the opposition his document would encounter before it passed. But the press conference was part of his strategy for securing their support. And it worked.

• This morning Ian Fry of Tuvalu announced that his tiny nation, which faces inundation from global warming, could not support the accord. He read the meaning of Obama’s press conference correctly and condemned it as an attempt to strong arm other nations, calling it “negotiation by media.”

• Soon after Obama’s press conference, Europe called a press conference of its own to sign on. The only other option at that point–with the U.S., Chinese, Indian, and Brazilian leaders heading to the airport–was no agreement.

• Next, Lumumba Stanislaus d’Aping of Sudan, who led the G-77 delegation of 130 developing nations, including China, called a press conference and denounced the agreeement. That’s when media began to adjust their misreporting of an Obama deal by misreporting that Obama’s deal was falling apart. In fact, at that moment, much of the work that would produce a deal was still ahead, and d’Aping no longer possessed the influence he had wielded for the past two weeks.

• By focusing his attentions on Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, both before and during the conference, Obama had peeled off d’Aping’s most powerful ally. Having courted Wen this autumn, Obama discovered that some distance had grown between them by the time he arrived in Copenhagen, according to a senior Administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Wen did not appear at a bilateral meeting with Obama scheduled yesterday morning. Instead, Obama found himself meeting with China’s climate minister. Instead of absorbing the insult, Obama pushed for another bilateral meeting with Wen. When Obama reached the conference room, he found Wen there with the leaders of India, Brazil, and South Africa, who were meeting to form their own consensus.

Instead of wooing Wen, Obama was now wooing four key players, and the five nations settled on the text that would become the Copenhagen Accord.

• d’Aping had been one of the most strident voices at this conference and one of the most inflexible negotiators. When the European Union pledged more than $10 billion in fast-start funds to help developing nations convert to cleaner energy, he immediately called the sum insignificant. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the U.S. would contribute to a $100 billion annual fund, he called that figure inadequate. He would accept no less than $400 billion per year.

d’Aping’s rhetoric escalated this morning, when he called the Copenhagen Accord “a solution based on the same very values, in our opinion, that channelled six million people in Europe into furnaces.”

Sudan is enduring a civil war that has been attributed to migration caused by global warming. But it also extracts about 500,000 barrels of oil per day and has made motions toward joining OPEC. Some have interpreted d’Aping’s rigid posture here as a sign that his true intent was to prevent a deal.

d’Aping’s rhetoric had risen, it turns out, soon after his star had sunk. Last night, he had lost China. By morning, he had lost Africa.

• What opposition remained? The block of leftist leaders in Latin America, for one, who could be counted on to oppose any agreement coming from America. In the morning session, Bolivia denounced the Accord as an attempt by the world’s richest nations to force policy on the rest of the world. Standing with Bolivia was Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba. But these nations had also lost their most powerful ally, the most rapidly developing nation among them: Brazil.

When Obama entered the room last night to negotiate with Wen, he moved a chair and sat next to President Luiz Lula da Silva of Brazil, a former labor leader and one of Latin America’s most colorful leftist presidents. By the end of that meeting, Brazil was with Obama.

In Brazil’s place, the Latin American leftists forged a new friendship with newly orphaned d’Aping and Sudan. But even together, they remained on the margins. They needed a larger alliance and began to look at the small-island states.

• Obama climbed aboard Air Force One at 11:10 p.m. He left his exhausted negotiators behind to close the deal’s final gaps. But in the first hours after Obama’s departure, the gaps seemed to widen.

In the early morning hours, when it appeared the Latin American leftists and the small-island states might unite to form a significant block of opposition, the meeting was halted for a “brief postponement.” For the next several hours, as the sun circled the back side of the earth and began to lighten the skies east of Copenhagen, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon mediated the remaining disputes.

The Alliance of Small Island States endorsed the accord this morning and apologized if they alienated any allies by doing so.

“Naturally, the countries that received this document wanted to read the document, wanted to ask their own questions, and because of the late hour this was a very telescoped process,” said Robert Orr, Ban’s chief aide for policy planning. “I think the key to the final agreement is that everyone did want it to happen, and then the secretary general stepped into that role with his good offices.”

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