Bush to skip Earth Summit, Powell to lead US team
WASHINGTON - U.S. President George W. Bush will not attend the Johannesburg Earth Summit this month but will send Secretary of State Colin Powell to lead the U.S. delegation, officials said last week.
An official said Bush, spending August at his Texas ranch, was not going partly because he was planning a major trip to Africa early next year.
His planned absence drew sharp criticism from environmentalists and Democrats, who cast it as a retreat from leadership that could backfire as Bush tries to maintain an anti-terrorism coalition and build support to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
But U.S. conservatives who oppose new international environmental treaties or organizations have encouraged Bush to stay away from what they cast as a platform for advocates of an anti-Western agenda.
The World Summit on Sustainable Development, scheduled to run Aug. 26-Sept. 4 in Johannesburg, is billed as the largest U.N. summit ever with an estimated 50,000 participants including more than 100 heads of state or heads of government. The meeting will debate ways to raise living standards in the developing world while limiting environmental disruption.
Bush\'s absence represents further backpeddling on environmental policy after his 2001 decision to reject the Kyoto treaty to fight global warming, environmentalists said.
\"It will be seen as another attempt by President Bush to withdraw from global cooperation,\" said Stephen Mills, international program director for the Sierra Club.
This could hurt Bush\'s efforts to overcome international doubts over his plans to oust Saddam. \"The United States has failed to realize that and I think it will come back to haunt them,\" Mills said.
Powell and other U.S. officials have said the United States would attend the summit seeking to promote \"partnerships\" among governments, industry and other organizations to tackle specific environmental problems and encourage economic growth. The U.S. officials say this approach would be more productive than new global treaties.
Powell would provide \"respectable\" representation for the United States, Mills said. But he worried that the White House political operation, headed by top Bush aide Karl Rove, will be calling the shots.
\"There are many decisions that are not (Powell\'s) to make,\" Mills said.
A group of 32 prominent U.S. conservatives wrote to Bush earlier this month supporting his evident plans not to attend the summit, which is a follow-up to a 1992 summit in Rio de Janeiro.
At that summit, Bush\'s father, former President George Bush, attended at the last minute and agreed to limit emissions of greenhouse gases causing global warming.
\"Even more than the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, the Johannesburg Summit will provide a global media stage for many of the most irresponsible and destructive elements involved in critical international economic and environmental issues,\" the letter from conservatives said. \"Your presence would only help to publicize and make more credible their various anti-freedom, anti-people, anti-globalization and anti-Western agendas.\"
A group of 42 House of Representatives Democrats wrote Bush on Thursday to say his absence would \"reinforce the perception that the United States is selective in its multi-lateral activities and participation in global agreements.\"
They also took issue with the emphasis on partnerships, saying that without adequate guidelines or enforcement mechanisms they would fail to address environmental problems.
Story by Randall Mikkelsen
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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