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US Officials Hopeful on Climate Talks

Senior Obama administration officials say they believe a Washington meeting on climate change this week has somewhat improved chances for a new international treaty to tackle global warming. Experts from 16 major countries and the European Union took part in the discussions.

The officials say they're not underestimating the difficulty of achieving an effective agreement to replace the 1997 Kyoto protocol.

But they say the tone of the discussions in Washington was positive and constructive, partly due to President Obama's determination to try to tackle the climate change problem after years of drift under the Bush administration.

The meeting in Washington included major industrial powers and key developing economies such as India, China and Indonesia, which collectively account for about 75 per cent of the gas emissions blamed for global warming.

The two day meeting here was the first of three preparatory sessions for a summit-level meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate set for July in Italy.

That meeting in turn is aimed at generating a consensus for action in advance of the opening of global negotiations in Copenhagen in December on a successor to the Kyoto accord.

The Bush administration shunned the Kyoto treaty because of harm its emission limits would have inflicted on the U.S. economy. But in a keynote speech Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States will no longer be absent without leave from the global warming debate.

At a news briefing Tuesday, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern said the Washington talks were less confrontational than similar past meetings in part because (of) new administration's approach.

"I'm not trying to over-sell. I describe myself as a bit more optimistic because to a person everybody - the Chinese, the Indians, the Brazilians, everybody - came out of that room feeling I think more optimistic than they went into the room frankly. But I would not downplay or underestimate the difficulty of getting an agreement in Copenhagen, and the enormous difficulty of wrestling this problem to the ground," he said.

President Obama has proposed steps to initially reduce U.S. greenhouse gases by about 15 per cent from current levels by 2020, while Democrats in Congress propose modestly tighter curbs.

The European Union has its own targets, and negotiators must deal with the contention by leading developing states that major emissions cuts impede their efforts to reduce poverty.

Nonetheless, Deputy White House National Security Adviser for International Economic Affairs Michael Froman said the all the delegates in Washington showed a willingness to work together in a very forward-looking way to try to make progress.

"There were no backward-looking recriminations. It was all looking toward success in Copenhagen first and foremost, and making sure that the leaders meeting in July created the right momentum in these various areas," he said.

The second of the three preparatory sessions for the July summit will be held in Paris next month while a venue and date for the third meeting are still to be decided.

Many industrialized nations have not met emissions targets under the Kyoto accord, which expires in 2012.

Major developing economies like China and India were not covered by the treaty, a key reason why the accord - though signed by former President Clinton in 1998 - was never submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification.