ANNAPOLIS -- The organizer of the forthcoming "Earth summit" in Brazil urged the Bush administration yesterday to recognize that the meeting represents an opportunity, not a threat, for the U.S. economy.
Maurice Strong, secretary-general of the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development, said U.S. representatives participating in negotiations leading up to the summit have been "tough-minded" about certain key issues, such as global warming.
But he expressed confidence that the United States and other nations of the world still have time to come to terms on disputes over warming, deforestation and providing economic aid to poor countries.
"This is of critical importance to the United States," Mr. Strong said in an interview. "Far from being a threat to the U.S. economy," he added, "it is a new level of opportunity, which unfortunately the United States isn't yet responding to."
Mr. Strong was in Annapolis as speaker at a Rockefeller Foundation conference on agricultural research. On Saturday, he wrapped up five weeks of presummit talks at the United Nations in New York. The talks threatened to break down, but at the last minute yielded a draft agreement that commits the world's rich nations to helping poor countries develop in an environmentally sound way.
With only two months left before the summit convenes June 3 in Rio de Janeiro, however, agreement remains elusive on global warming and on how to pay for environmentally sustainable growth.
About 160 nations will be represented at the two-week summit, and some 60 world leaders are expected to attend.
President Bush, however, has not yet said that he'll attend, and some conservatives have urged the president to stay home. They contend that the talks, particularly those on reining in global warming, threaten to stifle the U.S. economy.
European leaders and environmentalists are pushing for limits on emissions of carbon dioxide. It is one of the gases implicated in warming, but it is also a fundamental byproduct of any power production. Skeptics question the need and cost for such limits.
Mr. Strong said he believes there is room for compromise, adding that the United States already is close to meeting the carbon dioxide limits proposed. A global warming pact could be reached without specific limits, he said, but would be "weakened."
He also said he believed negotiators were getting closer on the key question of money. The U.N. has said that helping poor countries develop in a way that feeds their people and prevents environmental degradation will cost $125 billion, but Mr. Strong said $5 billion to $10 billion would be a good start.