President Donald Trump's top economic adviser said at a United Nations meeting on Monday that the United States stood by its plans to abandon the Paris climate pact unless there is a renegotiation more favourable to Washington, a step for which the international community has little appetite.
Trump in June announced that the United States would withdraw from the landmark 2015 accord, saying it would harm US industries, cost US jobs, weaken American national sovereignty and put the country at a permanent disadvantage to other nations. He also raised the possibility of renegotiating it.
"We made the president's position unambiguous, to where the president stands, where the administration stands on Paris," Gary Cohn (photo), director of the White House National Economic Council, told reporters after an informal breakfast meeting that also included ministers from a dozen countries and the European Union on the sidelines of the annual UN gathering of world leaders.
Trump told French President Emmanuel Macron in a separate meeting the agreement was unfair to the United States but looked forward to discussing the issue further, said Brian Hook, director of policy planning at the US State Department.
"He is ... open to a number of different approaches that properly balance protecting the environment and protecting American workers and protecting economic growth," Hook said.
"There are obviously many different ways to reach an agreement around that." Cohn, who is overseeing the issue for Trump, declined to elaborate on terms that the United States would consider suitable to remain in the accord.
A White House official said the breakfast meeting included representatives from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico and South Africa, as well as the EU.
Cohn said the discussion was "very constructive" and the "mood was good," adding, "everyone wants to work together".
Another White House official said: "We are withdrawing from the Paris Agreement unless we can re-engage on terms more favourable to the United States. This position was made very clear during the breakfast."
A European official at the breakfast told Reuters Cohn made the same points on the US position that he made publicly but with a more positive, open tone. The official said Cohn indicated that the conditions that would keep the United States in the accord did not exist yet.
There had been some uncertainty about the US stance after American officials attended a Montreal meeting on Saturday of ministers from more than 30 of the nations that signed the climate change agreement. The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump administration officials said Washington would not pull out of the agreement and had offered to re-engage.
"There was some confusion over the weekend and I think we removed all the confusion," Cohn said, referring to the Montreal meeting.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Sunday the United States could remain in the Paris climate accord under the right conditions.
Four years to withdraw
It takes four years for a country to withdraw from the Paris agreement, so the United States will be a party to it until two days after Trump's first term ends, if it follows through on the pullout.
His planned withdrawal, part of the Republican president's nationalist "America First" message, drove another wedge between the United States and some of its closest allies.
His Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, was instrumental in brokering the deal intended to address one of the leading global concerns of the 21st century. Trump in the past has described climate change as a hoax.
France, which has staunchly defended the Paris accord since Trump announced his decision to withdraw, said it would push forward with implementation no matter what.
"We've taken note of President Trump's statements to not respect it, but for the moment no acts have been put into force and we have to hope that we can convince him to change his mind," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters in New York. "To convince him, international pressure must be strong, but we will not stop the implementation of the Paris accord."
Asked if she had learned anything new about the US position, South African environment minister Edna Molewa said, "It's important to understand one another's domestic issues."
The climate accord, reached by nearly 200 countries, was meant to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) or less by 2100, mainly through pledges to cut carbon dioxide and other emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. US allies have been vocal on its importance.
The United States accounts for more than 15 percent of worldwide emissions of the greenhouse gases blamed for global climate change, second only to China.
Cohn has been part of the "stay-in" accord camp among Trump's advisers, which also included Trump's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon was one of the main opponents of the accord before leaving the White House last month.