COPENHAGEN, Dec 19 – Chaos and farce reigned at the birth of a climate accord agreed by a clique of leaders, with statesmen going missing, critics crying foul and hacks stampeding on vain hunts for Barack Obama.
Fatigue fermented a feverish cocktail of human emotion overnight Friday as the US president claimed to have staved off a default in the dying hours of global warming talks in Copenhagen.
But small nations like Cuba and Nicaragua erupted in fury at being snubbed in a game of big power diplomatic chess also involving developing giants Brazil, China and India.
Claiming a "meaningful" deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions, Obama fired up carbon-belching Air Force One and raced back from the global warming summit to outrun a storm ironically tipped to dump a foot of snow on Washington.
It was a stunning turnaround, as earlier, as the summit went into extra time, the whole project was on the verge of collapse, US officials said.
Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd added: "There was a grave risk that these negotiations would collapse altogether."
While Obama\’s team clearly had an interest in spinning the climax of the talks to the young US president\’s advantage, they revealed a stunning succession of events more apt to a French farce than a major world summit.
Frustrated at deadlock in the talks, largely over China\’s refusal to accept a transparency regime to monitor developing states\’ emissions, Obama vowed to have "one more run at getting this done," a senior aide said on Air Force One.
Desperate for a foreign policy win, Obama drew the line when a comparatively minor Chinese official Yu Qingtai, an expert on climate change talks showed up to a multilateral meeting instead of Chinese premier Wen Jiabao.
"I don\’t want to mess around with this any more, I want to just talk with Premier Wen," a senior aide quoted Obama as saying.
Obama also decided he wanted to speak to leaders of major developing powers seen in China\’s camp.
So, he dispatched his advance team to find Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and South African President Jacob Zuma.
One problem: US aides were told that Singh was already at the airport, probably believing the talks were done.
"Advance basically tells the South Africans that at this point the Brazilians are unclear about meeting without the Indians, the Indians are at the airport, and Zuma at that point says, \’well, if they\’re not coming I can\’t do this,\’" said the US official.
Soon, Wen\’s team came on the line and said they were ready to meet Obama.
Obama\’s advance men headed off to scope out the room in the cavernous Bella Centre where the talks were taking place, but could not get in … and the reason soon becomes clear.
"We\’ve now figured out why we can\’t get into that room: because that room has Wen, Lula, Singh and Zuma," the official said. "They\’re all having a meeting."
Obama, according to reporters close to his side as he strode towards the talks, headed straight in.
"Mr. Premier, are you ready to see me? Are you ready? Mr. Premier, are you ready to see me? Are you ready?" Obama cried.
US officials insisted the president did not barge in uninvited on the surprise meeting, but was merely showing up on time for his talks with Wen.
"We weren\’t crashing a meeting — we were going for our bilateral meeting … we found the other people there."
At this point a near scuffle broke out after Chinese cameramen made a rush for a shot of all the leaders together.
"My people" have to get into the room, "or we\’re leaving" said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs in an unusual role as defender of the US press.
Downstairs, waves of reporters, cameramen and photographers started to surge through the conference centre, as rumours ran riot that Obama was about to give a dramatic press conference.
But Obama\’s small corps of travelling press was already salted away in a makeshift television studio fashioned from black curtains, in a deserted shopping mall with half dressed mannequins just out of sight.
The president declared the non-binding pact unprecedented and historic, though short of what must be done to tame global warming.
Shell-shocked delegates were left to digest implications of the non-binding deal, with vague promises to cut emissions, in an all-night plenary session of the Conference of Parties (COP).
Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen was in the chair, but at times the late night talks descended into incoherence.
"The United States abstained, then I passed the floor to Nicaragua ….." Rasmussen said, confused by a breakdown of the session.
"Nicaragua abstained …. who wants to speak?"