President Obama will meet with the leaders of China and India when he arrives in Paris on Monday to spur momentum for a global warming accord that has become a top priority for the French government in the wake of deadly terrorist attacks.
Meeting yesterday with French President François Hollande at the White House, Obama said the diplomatic relationship between the United States and France is stronger than ever since the attacks on Nov. 13, when men armed with guns and suicide vests killed more than 130 people in cafes, a concert hall and a soccer stadium.
Both leaders put the U.N. climate change talks at the center of their agenda, even as they vowed to step up coordination of military attacks on the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
"Next week, I will be joining President Hollande and world leaders in Paris for the global climate conference. What a powerful rebuke to the terrorists it will be when the world stands as one and shows that we will not be deterred from building a better future for our children," Obama said.
The two weeks of U.N. negotiations that kick off Monday are expected to culminate in a new global agreement to ratchet down greenhouse gas emissions and help poor countries cope with the impacts of climate change. More than 20,000 people plan to attend, and the opening day will feature speeches from Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping and more than 120 other heads of state.
White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Obama will meet in the morning with Xi. The leaders of the world's two largest greenhouse gas-polluting nations have struck two major agreements on climate change in the past year, and Rhodes said both are committed to sealing a deal in Paris.
"Clearly, the U.S. cooperation with China is absolutely essential to successful efforts to combat climate change. I think the two leaders meeting at the beginning of this process, the two largest emitters, sends a strong message to the world about their shared commitment," he said.
War and warming talks
Rhodes downplayed the possibility that the president would announce any major new efforts on climate change in his speech at the conference Monday. After a leaders' lunch hosted by Hollande, Obama will meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and in the evening, he will attend a "working dinner" with Hollande at the Élysée Palace.
"This will be an opportunity for the two of them to review the progress being made in the climate discussions, also to continue the discussions that they had today about the counter-ISIL campaign," Rhodes said.
Before leaving France the following day, Rhodes said, Obama will hold a special meeting with the leaders of several small island nations "to highlight the existential challenges they face."
Secretary of State John Kerry will accompany Obama in the opening days of the talks and afterward will go to Brussels for a NATO meeting and then will travel elsewhere in Europe. He is expected to return to Paris for the tail end of the talks, slated to end Dec. 11.
Also attending the Paris meetings will be Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
Hollande said the arrival of leaders from all over the world to advocate for reducing greenhouse gas emissions will send a message of "freedom" to those who would advocate violence.
"I certainly could not imagine that this conference would be taking place against such a background. At the same time, I think there cannot be any better symbol or response but to hold the conference in Paris, where the attacks took place," Hollande said at the White House.
"Never before did France host so many leaders of the international community. They're coming to sort out the climate challenge, and again, to work and to find the right agreement so that we can limit greenhouse gas emissions and make sure that our children and our grandchildren live better, or simply can live. But they are also coming to express their support to freedom, to the fight against extremism, that radical Islam which is becoming dangerous," he said.