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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States gathered China, India and the world's other top greenhouse gas polluters in Washington on Monday to "make up for lost time" and lay the groundwork for a U.N. deal to fight climate change.
The meeting, which U.S. President Barack Obama called last month, groups countries that produce about 75 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions to find ways to help seal a global warming pact this year.
"The United States is fully engaged and ready to lead and determined to make up for lost time both at home and abroad," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told delegates from 16 major economies as well as the European Union and the United Nations.
"Climate change is a clear and present danger to our world that demands immediate attention."
The meeting, held mostly behind closed doors, was meant to foster political partnership on the climate issue and was not expected to yield specific agreements.
But delegates did discuss technology during the first part of the two-day meeting, including carbon capture and storage (CCS), said Dinesh Patnaik, a member of the Indian delegation.
"It's a long term solution. It's not a short term solution," he said of CCS technology, which is largely unproven. Participants said the meeting also confirmed a new U.S. commitment to international climate change diplomacy.
The two-day meeting is meant to pave the way for international talks in Copenhagen in December to forge a follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol, which limits climate-warming greenhouse emissions and expires in 2012.
Obama's goal is to cut U.S. emissions by about 15 percent by 2020, back to 1990 levels. The European Union and many environmentalists want the United States to go further.
The major economies forum relaunches a process that began under Obama's predecessor George W. Bush, whose initiative drew skepticism from participants out of fear that it would circumvent the U.N. process.
Bush opposed the Kyoto Protocol, saying it would hurt the U.S. economy and unfairly exempted fast-growing economies such as China and India.
Obama, who took over in January, said on Monday: "Our future on this planet depends on our willingness to address the challenge posed by carbon pollution."
Obama, who aims to cut U.S. carbon emissions by more than 80 percent by 2050, announced a new scientific program called the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, modeled on the U.S. push to succeed in the 1950s space race.
Clinton touched on one sticking point in international talks -- the role that big developing countries should play -- by admitting U.S. mistakes.
"As I have told my counterparts from China and India, we want your economies to grow ... We just hope we can work together in a way to avoid the mistakes that we made that have created a large part of the problem," she said.
Italian Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo said Clinton's words "erased all doubts" about the willingness of the Obama administration to support the climate fight.
She told reporters that China, too, had shown a more positive approach in the meeting.
"Usually the attitude of China was more the attitude of a country asking for something," she said. "This time (there) was...a willingness to give a contribution to the process."
Environmentalists see a U.S. commitment to cut emissions as essential to a global pact and welcome Obama's desire to lead after what they view as eight years of lost time under Bush.
But much of Obama's ability to move forward in international talks rests with the U.S. Congress, where getting support for a domestic climate bill in the Senate -- which needs 60 votes out 100 to pass a bill -- may be difficult.
"By working with China and India toward common goals on climate change, President Obama is sending a clear signal to Congress that his administration is committed to addressing global warming," Kevin Curtis, deputy director of the Pew Environment Group, said in a statement.
Democratic leaders of the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee said they will postpone this week's planned hearings to modify existing energy and climate change legislation so panel members can continue their "productive discussions."
The major economies represented at the meeting include Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the United States.
Editing by Vicki Allen