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The Hague, Netherlands, November 17 -- Amid allegations the US team gave up too much, too fast, relations grew strained betwee
The Hague, Netherlands, November 17 -- Amid allegations the US team gave up too much, too fast, relations grew strained between American negotiators and their constituents attending this critical meeting seeking agreement among the world’s nations on limiting emissions from energy consumption. As the first of two weeks of bargaining lurched toward a belated finish, concerns emerged about how the U.S. can regain any of the strength in its negotiating position with which it entered the session. In a series of “private” briefings late Friday designed to achieve homogeneity of the audience, State Department officials led by Undersecretary Frank Loy assured non-governmental organizations, including industry and policy advocacy groups and representatives of Capitol Hill, that the US is holding firm in its stance on key issues.
This comes after the US team made major concessions on two major areas of contention between the United States and European countries, only to have the Europeans quite publicly and soundly reject the offerings. Indeed, the lead US negotiators learned of the rejection from an already informed press corps. These presenters belied the calamitous rhetoric employed by treaty proponents, including Clinton administration officials, that the planet’s future is at stake and immediate and forceful action is necessary. Appearing to instead recognize the political realities involved with ratifying a stringent energy suppression agreement in the Senate, State Department negotiators stated that it was “desirable” to “make progress.”
The goal, they stated, was to ensure the appearance of a “live,” “viable” process. This was conditioned upon whether other nations “arrived flexible and thoughtful enough” to agree to terms “that we can live with,” which these officials stated would only become apparent in the middle or end of next week’s sessions.
Meeting participants, however, left the briefing not only sensing a strong effort on the part of officials to not give off the odor of those about to concede what it takes. Also on their minds, as expressed in conversations on the condition of anonymity, was how these negotiators could “play hardball,” as they had assured a concerned team from Capitol Hill, having ceded two other major bargaining chips by the second or third day. Specifically, this source referred to a letter to environmentalists, dated November 3 and drafted on Gore-Lieberman campaign stationery, the release of which effectively removed nuclear and hydroelectric power as possible tools available to countries to gain credit for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. CO2 is a product of combusting fossil fuels and is cited by some scientists as having the potential, if built up in great enough atmospheric quantities, to disrupt the earth’s climate. Having ceded these items and having had the others rebuffed so early in the process, left the US “negotiating with ourselves,” as another senior congressional official put it.
That which remains of this process, prior to high-level diplomats arriving on Sunday, is an extended workweek through as late as 1 pm Saturday. With the midnight Friday deadline moved back, meetings for late Friday night were cancelled with an eye toward a hectic weekend work session. After that, the conference president will compile the recommendations of working groups for distribution to more senior negotiators to further resolve. The conference is slated to end next Friday.
State Department officials did downplay rumors that President Clinton would stop in on his way back from Vietnam on Sunday in order to breathe life into the process, as Vice President Al Gore did similarly in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997. That trip was credited, or blamed as the perspective dictates, for the US significantly loosening its demands and the broad parameters of an agreement emerging.