National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, batting down expectations raised by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, said Sunday that the Bush administration has not set a deadline for completing its policy for combating global warming.
Ten days ago in Europe, Powell assured foreign nations that the United States would have a plan developed in time for an October global warming conference in Marrakech, Morocco.
"I don't think we want to set a deadline of a specific meeting," Rice said on CNN's "Late Edition." "But there's no doubt that the United States is working very hard on this problem."
The contradiction highlights emerging division within the White House about how to counter the international Kyoto, Japan, accord regulating global warming, which President Bush has refused to sign.
Richard Haass, director of policy planning for the State Department, explained that formulating a policy has been difficult because "differences have been so pronounced" within the administration.
"The people around the table . . . don't agree," Haass said Friday at the Nixon Center, a Washington think tank.
Despite the divergence of views, Haass said he hoped that "sooner rather than later" a decision would be made by the administration, which appears to be under increasing pressure from Congress, foreign nations and the public to do so.
In Bonn on July 23, the United States sat on the sidelines while 178 countries agreed on rules for implementing the Kyoto Protocol, which set a goal of cutting emissions of heat-trapping "greenhouse gases" by an average of 5.2% from 1990 levels by 2012.
The Bonn agreement specifies emission reductions for each participating nation, but the overall goal will be much more difficult without the participation of the United States, the world's biggest generator of such gases.
The administration has been roundly criticized by allies around the world and by many congressional leaders at home for rejecting the international accord without offering an alternative. Rice's statement follows a similar suggestion by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman to the Washington Post that the U.S. plans to continue to do its "own thing."
Although Bush has stressed that he considers the problem of global warming to be very important, he has so far offered only to study the issue and develop technologies to cut greenhouse gases here and in developing countries.
A Cabinet-level group has been busy since spring trying to assess the challenge and formulate an effective response.
At least before they joined the administration, some Cabinet members, including Whitman and Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, favored aggressively regulating emissions of carbon dioxide, which are considered the major man-made contribution to global climate change.
But others in the administration put a priority on increasing production of energy from fossil fuels, including coal. This contingent seemed to have won out when Bush in March reversed a campaign promise to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
A number of proposals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions have at least some bipartisan support in Congress, and the Senate seems especially geared to move forward. Even Republicans are sending very public messages to the administration.
"The fact of the matter is, we need to deal with the carbon issue, substantively or politically," Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) told Whitman during a hearing Thursday. "I would suggest that somebody really start brainstorming on it."
Rice's comments do not represent the first time that Powell's assertions concerning global warming policy have been overtaken. Earlier this year, Powell asked the head of the international Kyoto process to postpone the Bonn meeting for two months so that the United States could develop an alternative policy. The meeting was delayed, but the Bush team came to Bonn empty- handed.
Powell said the delay was because global warming "is a terribly complex issue, and we are putting our best minds to work on it. We want to come up with something that will garner support and will be seen as a very clear response to this problem, which exists and which we all know exists, called global warming."
He stressed that the United States would produce a plan, "but we really are now looking toward [Morocco] for the tabling of specific proposals that could be seen as an alternative to the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol."
Environmentalists were disappointed Sunday to hear Rice step back from Powell's commitment.
"It suggests that the administration continues to waffle on global warming policy," said Lloyd Ritter of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "If the administration were truly serious about the problem, [it] would commit to meaningful alternative policies."
Rice defended the administration's decision to break from international treaties on arms control as well as on environmental protection.
"This is going to be an engaged internationalist administration, but it will not be an administration that signs on to treaties that are not in America's interest," Rice said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
She elaborated on CNN, saying that the United States would move forward in the coming months concerning domestic climate change policy and has been developing partnerships with other nations. But it will not sacrifice its economy to join in the Kyoto agreement, she said.
"It's not a matter of going it alone. It is that the United States is a unique country in terms of our energy usage, our size, the proportion of the world's [gross domestic product] for which we account--25% of the world's GDP. So we do need a national plan that unites our energy, economic and environmental policies, and that's what the administration is trying to do."
Washington Bureau Chief Doyle McManus contributed to this story.