By Michael A. Fletcher and Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 7, 2007
HEILIGENDAMM, Germany, June 6 -- As thousands of protesters clashed with police nearby, President Bush and leaders of other industrial nations traded markedly opposing views here Wednesday on how to combat global warming.
Despite the refusal of the United States, China and some developing countries to agree to calls for mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, Bush expressed optimism that the summit of the Group of Eight countries would result in agreement for a common strategy.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, host of the gathering at this Baltic Sea resort, has said she wants action on global warming to be the centerpiece of the meeting. She has pushed for specific numerical targets for lowering gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050 and holding temperature rises to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
As an alternative, Bush has offered to convene a series of meetings among the world's 15 top greenhouse gas-emitting nations with the goal of reaching consensus on nonbinding goals for reducing the pollution. Scientists say the gases are the prime cause of the current warming trend.
Asked by reporters whether he could relent and sign on to Merkel's goals, Bush said: "No. I talked about what I'm for. Remember? I said I'm for sitting together with the nations to sit down and discuss a way forward."
During the first day of the summit Wednesday, the United States and Russia toned down their rhetorical sniping, pending a meeting Thursday between Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Bush emphasized that his global warming proposal is not intended to undercut the United Nations-led process for forging global action on the issue, which many environmental activists suspect.
Bush and Merkel had a working lunch at the outset of the summit, and afterward both leaders emphasized their points of agreement. "There are a few areas here and there we will continue to work on, but I trust that we will work out joint positions," Merkel said.
Bush has opposed U.S. participation in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which sets binding targets on countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But his new plan, he said, is intended to complement the U.N. process for forging goals after Kyoto expires in 2012.
"This will fold into the U.N. framework," Bush said. "And that enables us to get China and India at the table to discuss how we can all move forward together." Under the Kyoto agreement, China and India are exempt from mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.
While the summit participants disagree on binding goals for addressing climate change, they all agree that they share a goal of addressing the problems, which German officials call significant progress.
As the world leaders met, thousands of protesters eluded police to converge on a seven-mile-long fence that the German government had erected around the hotel and conference center in Heiligendamm.
Most demonstrations by G-8 opponents were peaceful, although police sprayed protesters with three blasts from water cannons at one checkpoint near the fence in response to a stone-throwing incident, said Lueder Behrens, a police spokesman.
By late afternoon, police reported 137 arrests. No serious injuries were reported, in contrast to demonstrations over the weekend in the nearby city of Rostock, where an estimated 1,000 police officers and protesters were injured.
Police, hoping to prevent the protesters from getting anywhere near the summit site, had set up roadblocks on all the paved routes leading to Heiligendamm several days ago.
But early Wednesday, an estimated 10,000 demonstrators easily evaded security forces by tramping through farmers' fields to reach the fence. The protesters then turned the tables by dragging logs and branches across roads to make it more difficult for police to chase them.
They also blocked a tourist railroad that summit organizers had used to transport journalists to Heiligendamm, forcing the Germans to move reporters by boat instead.
Bush said he hoped his Thursday session with Putin would help ease tensions. The two leaders have exchanged barbs recently over U.S. plans to build a missile defense system in Europe and over what Bush has called "derailed" democratic reforms in Russia.
"Russia's not a threat, nor is the missile defense we're proposing a threat to Russia," Bush said, repeating his assertion that the system is intended to protect against attack from "rogue" countries, including Iran. Despite those assurances, Putin has said he might respond by re-aiming some of his missile arsenal at targets in Europe.
Bush said there was no need to respond militarily to Putin's threat. "I don't think Vladimir Putin intends to attack [Europe], and so I'll talk to him about it," he said.
Kremlin officials also eased their rhetoric Wednesday and played down suggestions that Russia had intended to threaten anyone with the suggestion of aiming the missiles at Europe.
"Russia is the last country in this world that is thinking about confrontation or another Cold War," Dmitri Peskov, a spokesman for Putin, said in a conference call with reporters.
He said Putin was looking forward to meeting with Bush one-on-one Thursday. "We think it will be a very good opportunity for our two presidents to continue their very transparent, open and sincere exchange of views."
But Peskov said Russia remains firmly opposed to the missile shield.
"It is not a secret that we still cannot understand the purpose of the deployment of that shield," he said. "All the explanations were insufficient, and the statement that this shield is not aimed at Russia is not satisfactory."