U.S. President Barack Obama walking uninvited into a meeting of Prime Ministers of China and India and Presidents of Brazil and South Africa proved to be a key moment for striking of a political deal to salvage the Copenhagen Climate Summit.
With hopes fading of a summit draft, in fact, it was a dramatic turn of events last night, which led to a breakthrough when all seemed lost.
Several key world leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to turn back from the airport to huddle straight into a meeting at the Bella Centre in what was the last ditch effort by Mr. Obama to hammer a deal.
Mr. Obama was keen for a one-to-one meeting with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
It was no less a surprise for Mr. Obama, himself, and the White House team in Copenhagen when he went into a late afternoon bi-lateral meeting with Mr. Wen to find that three other world leaders were already there in the room — Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Brazilian President Lula da Silva and South African President Jacob Zuma.
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Later, U.S. officials said “The only surprise we had, in all our history was...that in that room wasn’t just the Chinese having a meeting...but all four countries that we had been trying to arrange meetings with where indeed all in the same room...The President’s viewpoint is, I wanted to see them all and now is our chance.”
Mr. Obama and his team appeared to be taken aback at this as the U.S. President had scheduled a last-minute bilateral meeting with the Chinese Premier, followed by a joint meeting with the Indian, Brazilian and South African leaders. But, it appeared that the Chinese, Brazilian, Indian and South African leaders wanted to meet him together, rather than in separate sessions.
Apprehending that the Copenhagen Summit has almost headed towards a dead end, Mr. Obama postponed his scheduled departure for the U.S. and told his advance team that he wanted to meet the Chinese premier separately; followed by a joint meeting with the India, Brazilian and South African leaders.
Chinese team’s initial reluctance
The Chinese team, initially reluctant, told the White House officials that most of the team were already on the airport, while Mr. Wen was in his hotel, getting ready to leave.
When they called Indian team, they were told that Mr. Singh is at the airport. This happened around 4 p.m. local time.
“I think they thought the meeting was done. I think they thought there wasn’t anything left to stay for, in all honesty,” a senior administration official said. And, when they called Brazil, White House was told no meeting without India, as they knew that Singh was on his way back.
Mr. Zuma agreed as he did not had the latest information about Mr. Singh.
“Brazil tells us that they don’t know if they can come because they want the Indians to come. The Indians were at the airport. Mr. Zuma is under the impression that everybody is coming,” a senior Administration official said. And when Mr. Zuma came to know that Singh was at the airport, he also backed out of the meeting.
If they (India and Brazil) are not coming I can’t do this,” Mr. Zuma told the White House.
Meanwhile, the White House received a call from the Chinese team that Mr. Wen wanted to move the bilateral meeting from 6.15 p.m. to 7 p.m. local time.
Mr. Obama, who was personally involved in all these, agreed to the Chinese request and instead went into a huddle with the European leaders, which lasted for about 45 minutes.
Before leaving for his bilateral meeting with Mr. Wen, Mr. Obama had last minutes talks with German Chancellor, Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
“The President is beginning to leave. He spends time right before he leaves, this would have been right before 7:00 pm, the President is talking with Chancellor Merkel and Gordon Brown about going for this bilateral meeting with Premier Wen, that they had rescheduled for 7:00 pm,” the official said.
All this happened at the Bella Center — the venue of the Copenhagen Summit on Climate Change.
And as Mr. Obama was entering the room for his bilateral with Mr. Wen, he and the entire White House was surprised to see the Chinese Premier having meeting with Dr. Singh, Mr. Zuma and Mr. Lula.
“We weren’t crashing a meeting; we were going for our bilateral meeting. We found the other (India, South Africa and Brazil) people (leaders) there,” a senior Administration official said.
No chair for Obama
And when Mr. Obama entered the meeting room, there was no chair for him. Mr. Obama himself was reported as saying that there aren’t any seats. This is also reflected in some of the pictures of the meeting which shows that there are no chairs.
Mr. Obama said, “No, no, don’t worry, I am going to go sit by my friend Lula,” and said, “Hey, Lula.” Walks over, moves a chair, sits down next to Lula. The Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, sits down next to him.
Then the meeting started, at about 7:00 pm local time and concluded at about 8.15-8.20 p.m. local time.
Presumably taken aback by the Chinese, Indian, South African and Brazilian meeting, without their knowledge, a senior administration official later said: “I will assume that their meeting was to get their ducks in a row. Because at this point, certainly our impression was that a number of these people were either at or on the way to the airport.”
And all this while Chinese officials, told the White House that it was going to be a bilateral meeting and did not give an impression that all these leaders were also in the same room.
“President’s viewpoint was I’m going to make one last run. When it appeared we couldn’t get the Chinese earlier in the day, the President said, well, if we can’t get the Chinese then let’s get the next three (India, South Africa and Brazil) that are — absolutely they’re working as a team. They’ve got similar interests, there’s no doubt about that,” the official said.
“Again, the only surprise we had, in all honesty, was we did not know at 6.15 p.m., when we moved our meeting from 6.15 p.m. to 7.00 p.m., that in that room wasn’t just the Chinese having a meeting about their posture going into the 7.00 pm meeting, but in fact all four countries that we had been trying to arrange meetings with were indeed all in the same room,” the official said.