Obama raced clock, chaos, comedy for climate deal
By CHARLES BABINGTON and JENNIFER LOVEN (AP) – 1 hour ago
WASHINGTON — It was almost unthinkable. The president of the United States walked into a meeting of fellow world leaders and there wasn’t a chair for him, a sure sign he was not expected, maybe not even wanted.
Barack Obama didn’t pause, however. “I’m going to sit by my friend Lula,” he said, moving toward Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
A Brazilian aide gave the U.S. president his chair, and Obama spent the next 80 minutes helping craft new requirements for disclosing efforts to fight global warming. Along with India, South Africa and Brazil, the key member in the room was China, which recently surpassed the U.S. as the world’s top emitter of heat-trapping gasses.
At the table this time for China was Premier Wen Jiabao, not an underling as before. Obama was bent on striking a deal before flying home to snowbound Washington.
He would later hail the achievement as a breakthrough. But even Obama said there was much more to do, and climate authorities called Copenhagen’s results a modest step in the global bid to curb greenhouse gasses that threaten to melt glaciers and flood coastlines.
Obama’s 15-hour, seat-of-the-pants dash through Copenhagen was marked by doggedness, confusion and semi-comedy. Constrained by partisan politics at home, and quarrels between rich and poor nations abroad, he was determined to come home with a victory, no matter how imperfect.
Experts and activists may debate its significance for years. Some, like Jeremy Symons, who watched the talks for the National Wildlife Federation, said it was “high drama and true grit on the part of the president that delivered the deal.”
Others were far less kind. The Copenhagen agreements are “merely the repackaging of old and toothless promises,” said Asher Miller, executive director of the Post Carbon Institute.
Even though a weary, bleary-eyed Obama had added six hours to his planned nine-hour visit, he was back in Washington by the time delegates at the 193-nation summit approved the U.S.-brokered compromises on Saturday. The agreements will give billions of dollars in climate aid to poor nations, but they do not require the world’s major polluters to make deeper cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions.
This account of Obama’s hectic day is based on dozens of interviews and statements by key players from numerous countries.
Obama was thrown off schedule almost from the moment he landed Friday morning in Copenhagen, where the summit’s final-day talks seemed to be collapsing.
Instead of attending a planned meeting with Denmark’s prime minister, he plunged into an emergency session of about 20 nations, big and small, wealthy and poor. Right away there was a troubling sign.
China was the only nation to send a second-tier official: vice foreign minister He Yafei instead of Premier Wen, who was in the building. The snub baffled and annoyed delegates.
For months, Obama had been pressing China to put into writing its promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Obama later seemed unusually animated when he alluded indirectly to China in a short, late-morning speech to the full conference.
“I don’t know how you have an international agreement where we all are not sharing information and ensuring that we are meeting our commitments,” he said. “That doesn’t make sense.”
Things then appeared to turn for the better, as Obama and Wen met privately, as scheduled, for 55 minutes. A U.S. official said they took a step forward as they discussed emissions targets, financing and transparency.
The two leaders directed aides to work on mutual language, and Obama’s team proposed specific wording meant to solidify China’s promise to be more forthcoming about its anti-pollution efforts.
A short time later, however, the U.S. team was more baffled and irked than before. At a follow-up session of the morning’s big meeting, the Chinese sent an even lower-ranking envoy in Wen’s place.
An irritated Obama told his staff, “I don’t want to mess around with this anymore, I want to just talk with Premier Wen,” according to a senior administration official who spoke on background to discuss sensitive diplomatic issues.
By now night had fallen, and it was clear Obama would be late getting home. He kept an appointment to discuss arms control with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Meanwhile he asked aides to try to set up a final one-on-one meeting with Wen, and a separate meeting with leaders of India, Brazil and South Africa. He hoped these fast-growing nations, which had been loosely aligned with China on many of the key issues, might influence the Chinese.
Confusion reigned. Chinese officials said Wen was at his hotel and his staff was at the airport. The same was said of top Indian officials, but nothing was clear.
South African President Jacob Zuma agreed to meet with Obama, then canceled when he heard the Indian leader was away, and Brazil would attend only if India did.
The Chinese said Wen could meet with Obama at 6:15 p.m., then changed it to 7 p.m. Obama used the time to talk strategy with the leaders of France, Germany and Great Britain.
Meanwhile, a four-nation negotiating team known as BASIC gathered. The modified acronym reflected its members: Brazil, South Africa, India and China.
Obama was unaware, however, thinking he was going to meet alone with Wen. After some confusion about who had access to the room, White House aides told the president that Wen was inside with the leaders of the three other countries, apparently working on strategy.
“Good,” Obama said as he walked through the door. “Mr. Premier, are you ready to see me?” he called out. “Are you ready?”
Inside he found startled leaders and no chair to sit in.
U.S. officials denied that Obama crashed the party, saying he simply showed up for his 7 p.m. meeting with Wen and found the others there.
Whatever the meeting’s original purpose, Obama used it to help strike an agreement on ways to verify developing nations’ reductions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, a good U.S. ending to their talks with the Chinese.
Who says FOX News doesn't like Barack Obama?
The first year of the Democratic president has been good for the nation's leading cable news channel - its viewership up 7 percent in prime-time hours so far in 2009, compared to the same time last year.
Make that 10 percent among the 25-54-year-olds whom advertisers love to court.
As opposed to both rivals CNN, suffering an apparent post-Dobbs slump as well, and MSNBC - down by double-digits from year to year.
So say the Nielsen ratings in this year of living Democratically, when President Barack Obama's White House has taken on FOX for being something other than a traditional news network - "an arm of the Republican Party,'' according to the outgoing White House communications director. It could be, perhaps, that all the vitriol which commentator Glenn Beck and company have stirred up for Obama and crew has been box-office for the network that the press office loves to hate.
Beck's own audience - 2.67 million viewers in November - includes a 101 percent gain among the 25-54 year-olds since last year.
It's both FOX's standard news fare - Brett Baier's report - and its commentary - Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity - that have fared well during the first 10 months of the Obama administration.
FOX News, of course, has been dominant in the cable ratings for some time - No. 1 in total viewers for 95 consecutive months (since January of 2002), by Nielsen Media Research's count.
But Baier's Special Report and The O'Reilly Factor scored their best month of the year in November, both in total viewership and in the 25-54 cohort.
Both CNN and MSMBC were suffering their worst months of the year, by comparison - with CNN's Anderson Cooper down 70 percent from last year among the 25-54s, Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room off 63 percent among the same crowd.
And CNN's viewership was off 25 percent in the weeks following Lou Dobbs' surprise on-air resignation, comparing the pre-Dobbs and post-Dobbs segments of November's ratings.
Bill O'Reilly's audience of 3.669 million in November included a 12 percent gain in the 24-54 audience, compared with November of last year.
CNN's Campbell Brown's audience of 696,000 was down 62 percent in the same cohort. MSNBC's Countdown with Olbermann, with 1 million viewers, also was down 62 percent among the same audience, year to year.
Even Larry King's 853,000 was off 59 percent.
And Chris Matthews, playing Hardball over at MSNBC, pulled 672,000 viewers, including 184,000 in the 25-54 bracket, off 63 percent from the previous November. It could be all that interrupting of guests that the host does.