LE BOURGET, France -- There's been a "meeting of the minds" between the United States and leaders of small island nations, Secretary of State John Kerry said today.
Speaking with a small group of reporters after emerging from a meeting with Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, the leader of Timor-Leste and others, Kerry said he believes the group made significant progress in areas that have stymied talks toward a new global agreement.
In a brief but wide-ranging interview, Kerry opined on the difference between U.N. climate talks and the Iran nuclear negotiations ("they're very different"), said Donald Trump's comments calling to bar Muslims from entering the United States were "not constructive," and suggested the United States has some things in its hip pocket to help unglue the climate negotiations if they get stuck, as they inevitably do at crunch time.
"It's very possible there will be a few things to try to help move the process along," Kerry said. "We're certainly trying to be creative ... about ways we can make life easier for countries that need help, and there are countries that need help. There are countries that want to do a good job and live up to their responsibilities, but they don't have the money. Yes, the world needs to try to help with that, and we're going to try to do our share."
Talks toward a new international agreement have entered their final phase. There is a draft text on the table, and starting this week ministers who have flown in from nearly 195 nations will start trying to find compromises on difficult issues like money, transparency and how to prove to the world that countries will meet the emissions targets they have set for themselves.
Kerry said movement so far has been slow but steady. "Consensus has been made," he said. "Hopefully we get a text, perhaps today, perhaps tomorrow, which would be reflective of getting closer to the finish line. ... There are still some issues we're trying to work through."
One of those issues is called "loss and damage," and it's dear to island countries and the most vulnerable. They want a mechanism in the agreement that will help their countries deal with droughts, storms, cyclones and other weather-related disasters that are causing huge economic losses and prompting migration today.
They insist they are not looking for compensation, but the United States wants language in the text explicitly ruling out the possibility of countries demanding liability.
Kerry called his meeting with island leaders helpful in ironing out differences.
"We had a good conversation, and I think we made progress. ... But the proof will be in the language," he said. "I explained exactly where we're coming from on that, and I think there's good understanding."
Kerry noted that President Obama explicitly in a speech said the United States accepts its share of responsibility for heat-trapping emissions that scientists say are now harming the planet -- with the worst impacts being suffered by the poorest countries.
But, Kerry said, linking any part of the deal to language that blames industrialized countries or treats development as an environmental crime is a sure loser globally and in the United States.
"If you want to end an effort to have people move responsibly to deal with this, then create a concept of liability," he said. "You'll have 100 to nothing in the Senate and 435 to nothing in the House. If we're going to have an agreement, let's be smart about it. That's what we're trying to do."
Asked to reflect on how the climate negotiations differ from the Iran nuclear talks, he demurred at first but then dove in.
"They're very different," he said, describing the Iran talks as seven countries sitting down with one in an atmosphere riddled with suspicion.
"Here you have the entire planet of countries, with the exception of 10 nations, all of whom have come to a fairly common understanding of the challenge, who have different interests and different outcomes in mind," he said. "It's just not comparable in any measurable way."