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Merkel proclaims US accord on climate plan a big victory

HEILIGENDAMM, Germany -- The United States agreed yesterday to "seriously consider" a European plan to combat global warming by cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050. The deal averted a trans-Atlantic deadlock at a meeting here of the Group of 8 industrial nations.

The compromise, hammered out in negotiations between the United States and Germany, also endorses President Bush's proposal to bring together the world's largest emitting countries, including China and India, to set national goals for reducing emissions.

But it does not specify a mandatory 50 percent reduction in global emissions, a key provision sought by Chancellor Angela Merkel, nor does it commit the United States or Russia to specific reductions.

Nevertheless, Merkel, the host of the G-8 meeting, proclaimed it a major victory. She had placed climate change at the top of the agenda for this gathering and put pressure on Bush to relax his opposition to mandatory cuts in emissions.

"If you think of where we were a few weeks ago and where we have reached today, this is a big success," Merkel said in this Baltic Sea resort where the leaders were meeting.

The United States had threatened before the meeting to reject large parts of the German proposal, which reaffirms the role of the United Nations as the primary forum for negotiating climate agreements.

Now, though, the Bush administration has agreed for the first time to take part in negotiations to craft a new global agreement on climate policy by 2009.

Such a pact could form the basis of a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012 and was never ratified by the United States.

Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said after the meeting yesterday: "One of the features I think we all agreed to is that there needs to be a long-term global goal to substantially reduce emissions. There are obviously a number of ideas as to how that should be done."

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, who has long prodded Bush to embrace a stricter climate policy, said the agreement represented "a very substantial coming together" of the world's leaders on this issue.

His comments came after he met one-on-one with Bush for the last time as prime minister.

Environmental groups had a different impression, with several noting that the agreement did not alter the Bush administration's refusal to accept binding targets for emissions reductions.

"He has only agreed to consider the goal," said Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust. "This is the kind of language that emerges from a discussion in which people say 'We have to have something to take back to our publics.' "