Bush may attend environmental talks Aides advised president not to go to Rio.


WASHINGTON -- Ending one of the more fractious debates within his administration in recent months, President Bush is expected to announce soon that he will fly to Brazil for a U.N. environmental conference that his conservative advisers call a trap and his economic experts see as a fiscal debacle.

The prospect of that announcement is likely to cheer a worldwide alliance of environmental advocates and political figures involved in environmental issues, who have long feared that Mr. Bush might single-handedly wreck the meeting simply by staying home.

Environmentalists have resorted to advertising on national television to press Mr. Bush to attend, and the issue loomed as an important factor in the presidential campaign.

As the world's largest industrial economy and its largest energy user, the United States is both the Earth's most prolific polluter and far and away its prime source of clean-up technology and money, and thus is regarded as indispensable to the meeting, which convenes in Rio de Janeiro next month.

Some of the same environmentalists pressing the president to attend, however, now complain that Mr. Bush's own hardball negotiating tactics may make the conference more a symbolic triumph than a substantive success. The president has dangled the threat of a boycott while seeking major concessions on environmental agreements.

"It would be hard to imagine a more important event for the future of the global environment than this one," James Gustave Speth, president of the Washington-based World Resources Institute, said. "And so it's been one of the most discouraging experiences of my 10 years of working on international environmental issues to see my government fail to give the kind of leadership that it gave 20 years ago."

Mr. Bush has yet to declare his intention to attend the Brazilian meeting, although White House officials have said for some weeks now that a decision was close. But several administration officials, who refused to be named, said in interviews this week that Mr. Bush almost certainly will attend the meeting, although his stay may be brief.

Mr. Bush's aides insist that the United States has been a leader in negotiations leading up to the meeting by battling against treaties that would dictate rigid goals and methods for reducing global pollution; at the same time, it has advocated the kinds of free-market environmental strategies that the administration has tried to push at home.

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