Barack Obama denies accusations that he 'crashed' secret Chinese climate change talks
Senior US officials insist that President Barack Obama did not "crash" a secret Chinese meeting in the final dramatic hours of the Copenhagen climate change talks.
They portrayed the President as pulling negotiations back from the brink of collapse on a day that veered between chaos and farce.
Aides said that by standing up to the Chinese on the make-and-break issue of transparency, he helped force a deal, however flimsy.
The President was desperate not to return to Washington empty-handed after his risky one-day dash to Denmark.
But his aides were forced to deny that Mr Obama "crashed" a meeting of the Chinese, Indian, South African and Brazilian leaders when he walked in unexpectedly on the gathering.
The US delegation was caught unawares by the session taking place behind its back involving the Chinese and their allies. Officials acknowledged that they had been frantically trying to keep track of other presidents and premiers.
Mr Obama thought he was on his way to a one-to-one meeting with Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, who had earlier snubbed him by skipping a session of world leaders.
But just before he entered the room, he was told that the other three leaders there too. "Good," he told aides and strode in with the words "Are you ready for me?" The Americans were particularly taken aback by the presence of Manmohan, the Indian premier, as they were told he had already headed to the airport.
"I think there was no doubt there was some surprise that we were going to join the bigger meeting," said a top Obama aide.
It was during the 80-minute meeting with the other four that the final details were hammered out.
Earlier in the day, at a one-to-one with Mr Wen, Obama aides said the president pushed the Chinese premier "hard" on transparency language. Mr Wen apparently took offence because when world leaders gathered later, he was notably absent. Beijing was instead represented by the climate change ambassador in the ministry of foreign affairs.
A senior US official said: "The President said to staff, I don't want to mess around with this anymore, I want to just talk with Premier Wen".
But the Americans were told that Mr Wen had left for his hotel and Mr Singh had already headed to the airport. The day meanwhile seemed destined for deadlock Mr Obama returned to the meeting with Gordon Brown and other European leaders.
Obama aides said that he courted support from the others present for pushing ahead with a deal, even without the backing of China and possibly India, South Africa and Brazil which shared some of Beijing's concerns.
The White House argued that it was this approach that created the leverage that persuaded the four to have "make one more run at this" "The senior official said: "I think that's why people stowed their luggage in their overhead bins and decided to come back [from the airport] to the negotiating table."
Without even having time to sign the agreement, the president had to dash to the airport to fly home before a winter blizzard slammed the East coast.
By the time he woke up in a snowbound Washington, the so-called "Copenhagen Accord" that he had brokered the previous evening was already unraveling.
Negotiators at the talks gave the deal only the most tepid thumbs-up.
They chose to "take note" of the agreement but failed to adopt it as an official decision of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Speaking at the White House on Saturday, Mr Obama called the agreement an "important breakthrough that lays the foundation" for further progress in years to come. "We know it's not enough," he said. "We have a long way to go and I want America to continue to lead on this journey."
The president had already acknowledged the limitations of the "deal" when he was asked how confident he felt about securing a legally-binding agreement at next year's climate change summit in Mexico City.
"I think it is going to be very hard and it's going to take some time," he said after a day of drama that bordered on farce. He made clear that the ultimate goal was to "press ahead with something more binding".
But the agreement secured by Mr Obama lost wording from earlier drafts that calling for a binding accord "as soon as possible", and no later than at November's meeting in Mexico. Instead, the final version stated only that the agreement should be reviewed and put in place by 2015.
Mr Obama's aspiration to lead the world on climate change has been seriously undermined by the failure of the US Congress to reach agreement on the issue.
Senator John Kerry, lead author of the Senate's stalled climate change bill, expressed hope that the agreement would give fresh impetus for legislation early next year.
"This can be a catalysing moment," he said on Friday. "President Obama's hands-on engagement broke through the bickering and sets the stage for a final deal and for Senate passage this spring of major legislation at home."
But the accord set no target for concluding a binding international treaty, leaving the implementation of its provisions uncertain and fuelling criticism that it was more of a sham than a breakthrough.
It is expected to face several months, very possibly years, of follow-up negotiations before any internationally enforceable agreement can be reached.
Also dropped from earlier drafts was a collective agreement among nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050.
Nonetheless, some US environmental groups gave a cautious nod of approval.
"The world's nations have come together and concluded a historic - if incomplete - agreement to begin tackling global warming," Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, said on Friday. "Tonight's announcement is but a first step and much work remains to be done in the days and months ahead in order to seal a final international climate deal that is fair, binding and ambitious. It is imperative that negotiations resume as soon as possible."
But other US environmentalists were scathing of the president. Mr Obama may become known as "the man who killed Copenhagen," said Greenpeace US head Phil Radford.
And Bill McKibbon of the liberal climate change pressure group 350.org, said: "The president has wrecked the UN and he's wrecked the possibility of a tough plan to control global warming. It may get Obama a reputation as a tough American leader, but it's at the expense of everything progressives have held dear."