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US vice president to talk climate, Gaza at Dubai summit

Tan KW
Publish date: Thu, 30 Nov 2023, 02:33 PM
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WASHINGTON: US Vice President Kamala Harris will attend the UN climate summit in Dubai and meet regional officials on the Israel-Hamas conflict, the White House said Wednesday, after US President Joe Biden faced pushback for not going.

Biden's last-minute decision to send Harris to the COP28 meeting this Friday and Saturday comes just days after the White House insisted it already had a "robust" showing at the critical climate conference.

"I am heading to COP28 in Dubai this week. I look forward to meeting with our allies and partners as @POTUS and I continue our work to deliver bold global action to address the climate crisis," Harris said on X, formerly Twitter.

Harris will join US climate envoy John Kerry and dozens of other senior US officials at the meeting in the oil-rich Gulf emirate, the White House said in a statement.

"The President asked Vice President Harris to attend the COP28 Leaders Summit on his behalf to showcase US global leadership on climate at home and abroad," it said after Biden called United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed.

The United States is the world's second biggest greenhouse gas emitter after China.

US officials would not comment on why Biden had changed his mind on sending Harris. Neither she nor Biden had been previously scheduled to go to COP28, in weekly guidance provided by the White House on Sunday.

But a senior US official speaking on condition of anonymity said Harris would have talks on the Israel-Hamas conflict, as international efforts continue to extend a ceasefire in Gaza.

"We also do anticipate that while in Dubai, the vice president will have an opportunity to engage with global leaders assembled across COP28 including having discussions on the conflict of Israel and Hamas," the official said.

Harris said earlier Wednesday that the Biden administration was privately pushing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to minimise civilian casualties in Gaza, despite Washington's strong public support for Israel.

"There have been many conversations, both in public and private, about the fact that far too many Palestinians have been killed," she told the 2023 DealBook Summit in New York.

The White House has also not said why Biden, who is big on fighting global warming, is skipping such a critical climate meeting.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said however on Monday when asked about the president's absence that Biden had been "very much focused on the conflict between Israel and Hamas."

Until Biden, it was not customary for the US president to attend each COP summit.

Biden in 2021 traveled to Glasgow to vow that the United States would again take a global leadership role on climate after his climate skeptic predecessor Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris climate accord.

Biden again made a brief trip last year to COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Biden, who faces a likely rematch with Trump in the 2024 US presidential election, has put a high priority on climate domestically and was visiting a wind turbine factory in Colorado on Wednesday.

The COP28 summit will meanwhile provide a moment in the global spotlight for Harris, who has sometimes struggled to find a role in the Biden White House.

Harris blazed a trail as the first woman, Black person and person of South Asian descent to hold the vice president's office, but suffers from low approval ratings - as does her boss.

Biden has however been giving her increasingly public roles including on gun violence as they prepare their joint ticket for next year's election.

 - AFP

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