US President Barack Obama has delivered a boost to UN climate talks in Copenhagen, agreeing to delay his visit until the end of the meeting, when the drive for a global warming pact will climax.
Obama had been due to fly into the talks on Wednesday, and then head on to Oslo to receive his Nobel peace prize, but progress before the summit and talks with fellow world leaders seem to have convinced him to change his plans.
"The president believes that continued US leadership can be most productive through his participation at the end of the Copenhagen conference on December 18th rather than on December 9th," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Friday.
"There are still outstanding issues that must be negotiated for an agreement to be reached, but this decision reflects the president's commitment to doing all that he can to pursue a positive outcome," Gibbs said.
Obama had been heavily criticized for saying he would only go into Copenhagen at the start of the talks, especially in the European media.
|A young activist holds a sign at a climate change rally outside the White House|
French President Nicolas Sarkozywelcomed "with much satisfaction" Obama's decision to attend the climax of the talks, a statement from his office said.
Sarkozy "is delighted at this decision which shows the importance attached by the United States to the success of this conference on the climate," the statement said.
The White House also said Friday that the United States was ready to pay a "fair share" of 10 billion dollars a year in climate aid to developing countries as part of a deal at the upcoming summit.
Senator John Kerry has proposed that the United States pay up to three billion dollars a year for developing countries to cut emissions and cope with climate change to show Washington was serious about a Copenhagen deal.
Greenpeace welcomed Obama's decision to attend the closing of the summit.
"After a global outcry, President Obama... has come to his senses and accepted the importance of this potentially historic meeting," Martin Kaiser, Greenpeace International's political climate coordinator, said in a statement.
The UN-led climate talks in Copenhagen, which run from December 7-18, are aimed at framing concrete measures to combat global warming, notably by arriving at a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol.
Gibbs said that the White House believed there was now progress being made towards a "meaningful" Copenhagen accord in which all nations agree to combat climate change.
He claimed a large share of the credit for Obama following his recent trip to the world's largest greenhouse gas polluter, China, and talks with Manmohan Singh, prime minister of another key developing nation, India.
Signs that Obama may change the date of his trip to Copenhagen first emerged earlier Friday, when national security advisor James Jones told reporters that discussions were under way on the schedule.
Obama is still expected to travel to Oslo for the Nobel celebrations on December 10 as scheduled.
More than 100 heads of state or government have confirmed they will take part in top-level talks at the end of the conference which opens Monday and lasts until December 18, Danish government officials said Friday.
Sarkozy blasted Obama on his travel plans during a Commonwealth summit in Trinidad last weekend.
"We can't allow the presence of one single head of state to stymie the world's affairs," Sarkozy said.
"The decisive moment is December 17 and 18. If some come at the beginning and others at the end, when will we be able to take decisions?" he asked.
Obama vowed as soon as he took power to restore the United States to a position of leadership on global warming, after years of government-led skepticism during the previous administration of president George W. Bush.
But early hopes that a cap-and-trade law to limit carbon emissions could be pushed through the Democratic-controlled Congress have foundered, as the sharp economic downtown has diminished momentum for reform.
With the 2010 mid-term elections looming, lawmakers have expressed concerns that US action, absent commitments from rising economic powers like China and India, will cost US jobs, mostly in already struggling industrial US states and others dependent on fossil fuels.