White House denies backtracking on Paris pact withdrawal

 politico.com  9/16/2017 10:13:41 PM   Michael Kruse
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders calls on a reporter during the daily press briefing, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The White House denied Saturday that the administration was backtracking on its long-held plans to withdraw from the Paris climate deal.

"There has been no change in the United States' position on the Paris agreement. As the President has made abundantly clear, the United States is withdrawing unless we can re-enter on terms that are more favorable to our country,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, in a statement.

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The denial came after the Wall Street Journal reported that a White House senior official, Everett Eissenstat, had told people at a meeting of energy ministers in Montreal that the administration may revise or craft a new climate deal and emissions standards rather than pull out altogether, according to a top European energy official cited by the Journal.

As recently as early August, the White House signaled its intent to continue the process of withdrawal by delivering an official notice to the United Nations vis-à-vis the State Department.

President Donald Trump announced his intentions to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement in June during a speech in the Rose Garden – though under the terms of the original deal, the U.S. cannot fully withdraw until Nov. 4, 2020.

The president also indicated at that time that he would be open to re-entering the climate pact if he believed the United States could get out of it what Trump deemed a better deal.

The State Department announced last month that the U.S. would continue participating in international climate change negotiations, including talks aimed at implementing the Paris pact, "to protect U.S. interests and ensure all future policy options remain open to the administration."

Since then, the international community has largely been left in the dark about the United States' plans. Foreign diplomats have long suspected that the U.S. will ultimately remain in the agreement, while weakening former President Barack Obama's pledge to cut domestic emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

Diplomats have been buzzing about this weekend's climate meeting in Montreal, where energy ministers were set to discuss the climate deal.

An international official familiar with the meeting told POLITICO earlier Saturday that Eissenstat, the No. 2 official on the National Economic Council, told diplomats during a closed-door meeting that the U.S. was mulling plans to remain in the Paris deal and to rethink Obama's climate pledge.

But White House officials strongly denied that.

Another White House official said Saturday diplomats were mischaracterizing Eissenstat's comments.

A second, non-U.S. attendee at this weekend's meeting also said Eissenstat's comments were being misconstrued. The attendee, who witnessed his comments in person, said Eissenstat simply reiterated the administration's existing position, which is that the U.S. will continue to engage in climate talks with an eye toward reaching a better deal.

"He basically repeated exactly the State Department press release from August," the person said, referring to a recent statement from the department outlining its intention to eventually withdraw, but continue participating in Paris discussions. "This is being misreported. Unhelpfully so I think."

The news comes as National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn is set to meet with foreign officials in New York City on Monday to discuss climate and energy issues ahead of the United Nations general assembly.

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