To mend climate dispute, Obama phones Africa and Bangladesh

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi attends ...

President Obama called Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, leader of the African delegation, in the wake of a dispute that halted talks here Monday. Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

COPENHAGEN–On Monday, as negotiations halted in a dispute between developed and developing nations, President Obama picked up the phone and called two key players: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh and Prime Minister Meles of Ethiopia, leader of the African delegation, which led the rebellion on Monday.

“With Prime Minister Meles, the President reviewed efforts by the United States on climate change and reiterated his commitment to making progress,” according to a statement just released by the White House. “He expressed his appreciation for the leadership role the Prime Minister was playing in work with African countries on climate change, and urged him to help reach agreement at the Leaders summit later this week in Copenhagen.

Obama also reassured the Bangladeshi leader of the U.S. commitment to progress on climate change.

Cheif U.S. negotiator Todd Stern said today that Obama did not help broker the dispute, but Stern mentioned Obama’s telephone outreach at a U.S. press briefing yesterday evening, suggesting the president reassured these leaders of the sincerity of U.S. negotiators.

Delegates who took part in the dispute resolution spoke of the tension there.

“There is a lot of mistrust between the countries. You could feel that,” said Josef Leinen, representative of the European Parlaiment. “It was not just a frozen atmosphere outside. It was a frozen atmosphere inside.”

President Obama arrives in Copenhagen Friday morning for a brief appearance at the conference. Reporters asked White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about the role the president was playing in the meantime:

Q    Can I ask about Copenhagen, Robert?  Three days now from when the President is going to be flying out there.  By all accounts, most of the major issues are still outstanding.  There was a boycott today led by developing countries.  Is there going to be something for him to sign when he gets there?

MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, the President is committed to pursuing an accord that requires countries to take meaningful steps to address the climate change problem.  I don’t think there’s any doubt that there are still — there will be issues left to resolve when he lands — that developing nations are going to have to do their part; they’re going to have to recognize the part that they have to do; that we have worked strongly and diplomatically to bring countries like India and China along to the point where it’s possible to get some type of agreement; that the President will continue to work throughout this week to see — to make sure that that happens.

But there’s no doubt there are issues that will remain outstanding for quite some time.

Q    Is he working — you said he’ll work this week.  Is he working the phones on this?

MR. GIBBS:  He has made at least one call this morning and I think will wrap up some this afternoon, and we’ll give you guys a readout.  We’ll get some of that later on today.

Q    Specifically on Copenhagen — we’d be interested in knowing who he’s called — but Prime Minister Gordon Brown apparently is flying in there two days early to try and take a more personal role in the negotiations.  Any thought given to that here?

MR. GIBBS:  I think when the President picks up the phone and calls world leaders, I would define that as personally involved.

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