Rostock, Germany -- President Bush presented himself yesterday as caught in the middle of the international climate debate, fending off allies' calls for specific steps to reverse global warming while encouraging major developing nations to join eventual climate negotiations.
The dispute over how to wrestle with the changing climate is emerging as a focal point of the annual Group of Eight summit that began last night in Heiligendamm, a seaside resort village 14 miles northwest of here on the Baltic Sea. The gathering has drawn tens of thousands of protesters to this northeastern corner of Germany.
White House officials predicted yesterday that Bush would emerge from the three-day meetings with an agreement to conduct formal negotiations to establish medium- and long-range targets, reaching out more than 40 years, for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Critics of the president's position inside and outside the summit have argued that voluntary targets are not enough and fixed limits are needed.
Sitting on the grounds of the castlelike Kempinski Grand Hotel that is the summit's center, Bush told reporters that "the United States can serve as a bridge between some nations who believe that now is the time to come up with a set goal and those who are reluctant to participate in the dialogue."
"We all can make major strides, and yet there won't be a reduction, until China and India are participants," Bush said.
His comment reflected a view Bush shares with other critics of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol: that its limits on greenhouse gas emissions hamper the most economically advanced nations while giving potential economic giants of the developing world a pass.
Many scientists believe that greenhouse gases, chief among them carbon dioxide given off when fossil fuels are burned, are responsible for an increase in global temperatures.
Bush has objected to the central element of a plan put forward by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the summit host, and supported by most European leaders. Under it, participating nations would reduce their emissions by the year 2050 to half of what they were in 1990, with the goal of limiting the increase in global temperatures no more than 3.6 degrees.
As leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan and Russia gathered here with Bush and Merkel for an informal dinner before the official meetings began, police used water cannon to turn back demonstrators. At noon, authorities briefly closed the two checkpoints leading to the area because 6,000 demonstrators were blocking the entries.
Demonstrators tramped through nearby fields to thwart police efforts to contain them and pushed toward the 12-foot razor-wire fence establishing an eight-mile perimeter around Heiligendamm.
Police spokeswoman Jessica Wessel told the Los Angeles Times that 166 protesters were arrested, and 16 police officers were injured. She said she had no details on seriousness of the injuries.
While the protests disrupted travel in the area, at times the blocking road to the small nearby airport used by the arriving leaders, White House officials said they had no impact on Bush's activities, and he did not encounter them.
Merkel has built the summit around the twin issues of poverty, particularly in Africa, and climate change.
Speaking during a photo session after lunch with Bush, Merkel hinted at the disagreement with the president, saying that the two had had "a very good debate," and "there are a few areas here and there" on which they need to continue to work.
As the summit began, former Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev told CNN that U.S. plans to build a missile defense shield in Europe are arrogant and threaten to usher in a new Cold War.
James Gerstenzang writes for the Los Angeles Times.