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Clinton Administration Signs 1997 Global Warming Accord

By Joby Warrick
The Washington Post
BUENOS AIRES

The Clinton administration formally signed a United Nations accord on global warming Thursday in a largely symbolic act aimed at giving a boost to negotiators struggling to resolve key details of how to implement the 1997 pact.

Acting U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations A. Peter Burleigh signed the accord, a move that provided a rare bit of good news for weary delegates to the U.N.-sponsored negotiating session.

"Our signing puts to rest any doubt about whether the United States will back out of the historic agreement reached in Kyoto," said Stuart E. Eizenstat, the undersecretary of state who heads the U.S. delegation to the talks. But he acknowledged that the endorsement "doesn't guarantee a positive outcome in Buenos Aires," where the 11-day-old talks are limping toward an uncertain conclusion.

The action was applauded by other nations but congressional critics have vowed to defeat the treaty in the U.S. Senate.

Negotiators from 180 countries were expected to work through Thursday night to try to craft a plan for attacking the unfinished business from Kyoto, including crucial questions of enforcement and cost-sharing among rich and poor nations. Despite progress on a few fronts, the talks have remained bogged down over whether developing countries should take on more responsibility for curbing emissions from factories, automobiles and powerplants.

"We're definitely not there yet," Ritt Bjerregaard, environmental minister for the European Union, said Thursday night.

The Kyoto agreement, which commits industrialized countries to sharp reductions in greenhouse gases over the next 13 years, was negotiated by the Clinton administration, and President Clinton had consistently promised to sign it before the March 15, 1999, deadline. Before Thursday, nearly 60 countries had signed the pact, including nearly all so-called "developed" countries except the United States and Iceland.