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Analysis: Trump pulled in three directions on UN Paris climate deal as decision looms

by Sarah Westwood

After months of delays, President Trump faces a self-imposed deadline to decide the future of U.S. involvement in the Paris Climate Accords after taking stock of the deal during his first trip abroad this week.

The president’s aides, his Cabinet members and foreign leaders have pulled Trump in conflicting directions on the climate deal, which former President Barack Obama helped negotiate at the United Nations in 2015. The 195-nation pact aimed to prevent the increase in global warming from climbing more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and committed the U.S. to lowering its greenhouse gas emissions by somewhere between 26 and 28 percent before 2025.

Trump has three basic options for handling the Paris Climate Accords, each backed by different members of his administration. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt has emerged as a leading voice for withdrawing completely, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has advocated for remaining in the deal, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry has voiced support for renegotiating the terms of the agreement. Various White House aides and lawmakers have split themselves among the three camps as internal debates have dragged on for weeks longer than initially anticipated.

Now, the administration faces a new deadline to decide to the future of the climate deal.

“The president has been meeting with his team for quite a while on this matter, and he will not be making an announcement regarding that agreement until after he returns from the G7,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on May 9.

Trump’s latest delay will expose him to pressure from Group of Seven leaders, all of whom support the deal, during an upcoming G7 summit in Sicily on May 26. The international community will likely analyze every word Trump says about the climate pact this week now that the White House has made his decision contingent on information he receives at the summit.

Trump and his team have delayed a series of meetings intended to air arguments for and against remaining in the agreement. When the president’s travel schedule postponed the first such meeting in mid-April, White House aides stressed that the discussions would still take place at a later date. However, other planned meetings — with the president himself and between top officials, such as Ivanka Trump and Pruitt — also failed to materialize.

Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research and former head of Trump’s energy transition, said the latest postponement is likely a signal that the president has not yet made up his mind about how he should approach the climate deal.

“There’s a lot of other stuff going on, so I’m guessing they’re not thinking about it 24/7,” Pyle told the Washington Examiner. “I think the latest delay shows that there’s … various camps that have formed in the White House on the issue and that they weren’t prepared to make a decision.”

“I think the significance [of the delay] is that he wasn’t prepared to make a decision, and so it doesn’t make sense to do anything else with it until he gets back from the summit,” Pyle added. “He’ll hear from some other perspectives on it, and it may or may not influence his position.”

Within the West Wing, Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, a senior adviser, have pushed the president to leave the U.S. role in the climate agreement untouched. Others, such as chief strategist Steve Bannon, have encouraged Trump to reconsider America’s participation. And Don McGahn, White House counsel, has warned Trump that staying in the deal while simultaneously rolling back Obama-era environmental regulations at home could expose the administration to legal challenges from opponents suing to uphold the terms of the accords.

“From my perspective, if it turns out that they make some sort of a statement that they intend to renegotiate, I think that’s synonymous with a withdrawal because I don’t think that the remaining parties to the agreement will accept any scenario where the U.S. pulls back on its commitments,” Pyle said.