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Top U.S. official for global warming talks resigns

November 19, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A top State Department official who has led the U.S. climate negotiations is resigning, government sources said Wednesday, raising questions over who will head America’s delegation at global warming talks next month.

Under Secretary of State Timothy Wirth, who was scheduled to lead the U.S. team at the talks opening Dec. 1 in Kyoto, Japan, has informed the White House he will leave before the end of the year to work for a foundation created by broadcast magnate Ted Turner.

Although Wirth’s departure from the State Department was not expected until the end of the year, he is not likely to head the delegation to Kyoto, said one administration source, who spoke on the condition of not being further identified.

State Department and White House spokesman would not officially confirm Wirth’s plans to resign. Wirth could not be reached.

But Turner issued a statement in Atlanta announcing that he had hired Wirth, a former senator from Colorado, to head his United Nations Foundation, which will administer the $1 billion that Turner has pledged to help the world organization.

The resignation complicates U.S. efforts to press for a moderate global warming treaty in Kyoto.

Already the American proposal announced by President Clinton last month has been sharply criticized by the Europeans, who favor a more aggressive policy with deeper reductions in heat-trapping greenhouse gases than Clinton says is practical.

Wirth said last week there were ``still significant disagreements″ between the United States and the European Union on everything from what heat trapping gases should be covered by a treaty to the size of reductions countries should make.

Representatives from 160 nations are meeting in Kyoto to attempt negotiating binding reductions in greenhouse gases _ mainly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels.

Clinton has said he favors returning emissions to 1990 levels by 2008-2012. Europeans are demanding deeper cuts to bring carbon dioxide emissions to 15 percent below what they were in 1990.

Because emissions have continued to grow, Wirth has argued that even taking them back to 1990 levels would mean a 28 percent reduction from what they otherwise would be in 2010.

Wirth’s exact departure date wasn’t certain Wednesday. Officials also did not rule out the possibility that Wirth would continue to participate in the Kyoto talks.

But one administration source, speaking on condition of not being identified further, said Wirth likely would be replace because of his lame-duck status. Another source said the delegation likely would be headed by Stuart Eisenstadt, an assistant secretary of state, who also has been involved in the climate negotiations.

Environmentalists greeted word of Wirth’s resignation with concern.

Greg Whetstone of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the loss of Wirth was worrisome ``because of his intimate familiarity″ with the global warming issue.

``It’s not a great signal,″ said Whetstone.

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