By Jon Herskovitz
DURBAN (Reuters) - The United States is sceptical that China's comments it could support a legally binding deal to cut its own greenhouse gas emissions marked a breakthrough in troubled climate talks, an Obama administration official said in Durban Sunday.
China gave U.N. climate talks a lift Friday by suggesting it may sign up to a legally binding deal to cut emissions, a move that could help rescue talks about the future of the Kyoto Protocol, which sets legal targets on many major economies.
"I don't think China is looking to sign up for legal obligations," the official told a small group of reporters.
"The issue for whatever point at which a legally binding agreement might be doable -- for us the foundation -- is that all major economies would need to assume obligations that had equal legal force."
The major players on the global stage have laid out their positions since the talks opened Monday, with China and the United States, the two biggest emitters, each waiting for the other to commit before agreeing to a binding deal.
Canada, Russia and Japan have said they will not renew the 1997 Kyoto pledges that expire next year, while the European Union wants a new, global pact to head off what scientists say is a global catastrophe caused by a warming planet.
The U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said Washington did not think the EU's proposal was practical. The bloc wants a roadmap for a deal to set legally binding cuts on the gases by 2015 and have a pact in effect by 2020.
Beijing has said previously it wanted binding cuts without indicating if they would apply to China itself, which relies heavily on coal, a major source of CO2, to power its hard-charging economy.
"We have difference of a view right now with respect to the plausibility of an approach that requires the decision now on a thing to be negotiated and go into effect nine-plus years from now (and that it) must be legally binding," the official said.
The EU and Japan are proposing just that, with their envoys saying they are looking to replace Kyoto obligations with a new global accord that covers major emitters not bound by deal -- particularly the United States, China, India, Brazil.
The United States has been lambasted by environmental groups for blocking progress on a global deal to cut emissions.
"Those who are not interested in saving lives, economies and environments, like the U.S., must now stand aside and let those with the political will move forward," said Kumi Naidoo, International Executive Director, Greenpeace International.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz)