Angela Merkel presses U.S. on climate in speech to Congress

WASHINGTON Tue Nov 3, 2009 3:26pm EST

1 of 3. German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses a joint session of Congress as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi listen on Capitol Hill in Washington, November 3, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/BPA/Handout

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged the United States Tuesday to agree to binding climate goals, telling U.S. lawmakers in a speech to Congress there was "no time to lose" in the fight against global warming.

Speaking to a joint session of Congress days before the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, Merkel said it was time for the United States and Europe to unite to confront new barriers, from the economic crisis, to security and the environment.

"We have no time to lose," Merkel said, referring to a U.N. climate conference next month in Copenhagen, where countries will be trying to forge a successor to the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012.

"We need an agreement on one objective -- global warming must not exceed two degrees Celsius," she said. "To achieve this, we need the readiness of all countries to accept internationally binding obligations."

U.S. climate legislation narrowly passed in the House of Representatives in June, but opposition largely from Republicans has held up a separate bill in the Senate and chances of a breakthrough before the end of the year are slim.

This is likely to prevent the Obama administration, which has taken a strong public stance on the climate issue, from agreeing concrete targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the December 7-18 Copenhagen summit.

Merkel, who began her second term in office last week, met with President Barack Obama at the White House before giving the first address to the U.S. Congress by a German leader since Konrad Adenauer in 1957.

Speaking to reporters during a picture-taking session in the Oval Office, Obama praised Merkel's leadership on climate change and warned of a "potential catastrophe" if countries allowed global warming to continue unabated.

In addition to the climate issue, the two leaders discussed Afghanistan, non-proliferation and the global economic crisis, according to U.S. and German officials.

CHILDHOOD BEHIND IRON CURTAIN

Merkel, the first German leader to have grown up in communist East Germany, touched on her childhood behind the Iron Curtain and said she would have never dared to dream back then she would get the opportunity to speak to Congress.

She thanked the United States for standing up against communism during the Cold War, drawing stand-up applause when she mentioned former President Ronald Reagan's famous "tear down this wall" speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in 1987.

"I know, we Germans know how much we owe to you, our American friends. And we shall never, I personally shall never, ever forget this," she said.

She acknowledged that the allies have had differences, saying Americans sometimes viewed Europeans as "hesitant and fearful," while Europeans saw Americans as overly "headstrong and pushy."

But she said the West must work together to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb and to stabilize Afghanistan so that security responsibilities could be handed over to the government in Kabul.

Merkel also touched on the economic crisis, saying a new "global order" of rules and financial supervision was necessary.

"In a way, this is a second wall that needs to fall," she said of resistance to global financial regulations.

The invitation to address Congress, which was made by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, has cooled speculation about a lack of rapport between the low-key Merkel and the charismatic U.S. president.

U.S. and German officials say the two have developed a solid working relationship after getting off to a rocky start last year when Merkel refused to let Obama speak at the Brandenburg Gate when he was a presidential candidate.

(Additional reporting by Caren Bohan, editing by Vicki Allen)

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