After much speculation, including people pointing out that Copenhagen is just around the corner from Oslo where he will receive his Noble Peace prize, President Obama finally addressed the issue of his possible attendance at the Copenhagen negotiations.
In a Reuters interview Obama said yesterday that he will go to Copenhagen “If I am confident that all of the countries involved are bargaining in good faith and we are on the brink of a meaningful agreement and my presence in Copenhagen will make a difference in tipping us over edge”
This is still a far cry from a promise to be at the talks, which is what forty heads of state already indicated they will do (including UK’s Gordon Brown, Brazil’s Lula de Silva and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy) according to Yvo de Boer . Not only is he not promising to help reach that “brink of a meaningful agreement”, but his pinning his travel on his belief that all countries are “bargaining in good faith” seems to me like a potential ‘exit clause’ from this promise.
The main reason for this feeling is Todd Stern’s testimony last week in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee where he said that “some developing countries … focus more on citing chapter and verse of dubious interpretations … designed to prove that they don’t have any responsibility for action now”. His full testimony, as it was originally written, was – I felt – rather haughty and laid most of the blame for the slow progress of the negotiations on developing countries. Though his actual testimony was more balanced, with more focus on US’s and other developed countries’ necessary actions, to me the general tone indicates a lack of faith in developing countries negotiators on the part of the administration.
Some observers noted in the past that Obama is not likely to put himself in a position where he will be forced to personally sign a treaty he can’t be sure of passing in Congress. It is possible then that this half promise to attend comes now as it seems extremely unlikely that Copenhagen will result in a legally binding treaty, the hopes have now scaled down to achieving a “meaningful agreement”.
So while Obama coming outright and saying that he might go to Copenhagen is good news, I would have liked to see a much stronger commitment as, at least in this case, I don’t share Al Gore’s optimism when he told the Guardian that “He hasn’t told me that he will, and no one representing him has told me that he will. But I feel certain that he will.”