- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2001

Greenhouse gas proved the major source of indigestion yesterday as President Bush held his first face-to-face meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

The Oval Office meeting came a day after the Bush administration made clear it would not implement the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the international pact designed to cut industrial pollution and other emissions that treaty backers say promote global warming.

The German chancellor was the first European leader to meet with Mr. Bush after the decision, which met with harsh criticism in Europe and Japan.

The two leaders finessed potential disputes over a U.S. plan to build a missile defense system and an EU proposal for a continental defense force separate from NATO, but could only agree to disagree on the Kyoto clash.

"We have different opinions, and we are happy to admit to you that we have different opinions regarding this," Mr. Schroeder said through a translator at the White House.

"The president and his government will be called upon to make a decision as to how they, to put it casually, want to play it," Mr. Schroeder said. Germany will play host this summer to a new round of negotiations on greenhouse gas emissions.

Mr. Bush yesterday cited America's energy woes and its sagging economy as factors in his decision to reject the global warming accord negotiated by the Clinton administration. U.S. critics say the treaty would unfairly exempt developing countries from the stricter emission controls that American companies would have to observe.

Administration officials also argue that rejecting the treaty was a recognition of political reality. A 1997 Senate resolution condemning key parts of the accord passed on a 95-0 vote.

"I will consult with our friends," Mr. Bush said yesterday with Mr. Schroeder at his side.

"We will work together, but it's going to be what's in the interest of our country first and foremost. And the idea that somehow we're supposed to get enormous amounts of natural gas on line immediately to conform to a treaty that our own Senate sent a very overwhelming message against and that many other countries haven't even signed makes no economic sense or common sense," Mr. Bush added.

Many of Mr. Schroeder's European counterparts were far less diplomatic yesterday, slamming the U.S. decision as wrong on the merits and a worrying example of the new administration's indifference to international opinion.

"We have to make it very clear to the U.S. that this is not some marginal environmental issue that can be ignored," said EU Environmental Commissioner Margot Wallstroem at a news conference in Brussels yesterday. "This is extremely worrying."

France's minister on the environment, Dominique Voynet, called the U.S. decision "completely provocative and irresponsible," and warned Washington against trying to "sabotage" efforts by other countries to continue discussions on the pact.

Both Mr. Bush and Environmental Protection Agency chief Christie Whitman said yesterday the United States plans to stay engaged on international efforts to control greenhouse gases despite the Kyoto decision.

A senior White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity after the Bush-Schroeder meeting, said the two leaders had been able to "bracket" the dispute over Kyoto.

"There was no attempt to hide or obfuscate the disagreement, but it did not infect the rest of the meeting," the official said.

The German chancellor told reporters he was able in his talks with Mr. Bush to clear up some American "misunderstandings" over the proposed European military force, which some in the administration warn could ultimately become a rival to NATO.

The German chancellor also defended Germany's relatively low level of defense spending, saying Berlin had contributed to European security by aiding the former East Germany and by promoting democracy in Russia and European unification.

The German leader yesterday greatly muted past criticisms of the U.S. missile defense idea.

Mr. Schroeder said it was far too early in the development stage to take a "lump sum view" of the U.S. plan, but he also noted there was a "potential upside" to the system if it promoted international disarmament efforts.

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