President Barack Obama said Monday that he'd be willing to attend an international climate summit in Copenhagen next month if it appears a deal is in the offing and his presence there would help clinch it.
Nations are preparing to meet in Denmark to hammer out a new international treaty to slow climate change, but the talks have been hampered by disputes between rich countries and developing ones.
"If I am confident that all of the countries involved are bargaining in good faith and we are on the brink of a meaningful agreement and my presence in Copenhagen will make a difference in tipping us over the edge, then certainly that's something that I will do," Obama said in an interview with Reuters.
It was Obama's strongest statement to date that he may attend the Dec. 7-18 U.N. conference. White House officials previously have declined to say whether Obama would attend the summit.
In the interview, previewing his trip to Asia that begins Thursday, the president said he expected to sign a new nuclear arms reduction pact with Russia by December. He also rejected criticism that he's too soft on human rights issues in his dealings with China.
"I don't find the critics credible," Obama said. "If you look at my statements, they have been entirely consistent. We believe in the values of freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of religion that are not just core America values but we believe are universal values."
Obama has been criticized for delaying a meeting with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, until after he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao during the Asia trip. China views the Dalai Lama as anti-China and pressures foreign governments not to meet with him. The Obama administration needs China's support for its top foreign policy, economic and environmental goals.
Obama also said he expected the U.S. and Russia would sign a new nuclear arms reduction treaty by December.
Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed this year to reach a new nuclear arms reduction treaty to replace the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, that expires Dec. 5.
Obama told Reuters that on the issue of global nuclear nonproliferation "I would strongly argue that we have made more progress on this issue over the last several months than we have seen in the last several years."
On climate change, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was headed to Washington on Tuesday to meet with key senators and White House officials to discuss the issue.
Ban and Janos Pasztor, the director of his Climate Change Support Team, were originally campaigning for agreement on a new treaty at Copenhagen. But both have scaled back expectations in the past month, focusing instead on getting a political deal on the key elements that can be turned into a treaty, hopefully next year.
At the final round of negotiations in Barcelona that ended last week, the U.S. was universally seen as the linchpin to a political deal, but it has been unable to present its position or pledge emissions targets because of slow progress on climate legislation in Congress.
Last week, Senate Democrats sidestepped a Republican boycott and pushed a climate bill out of a key committee. But at least five other committees must still have their say.