FAIRBANKS, Alaska (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed an agreement recognizing the landmark Paris climate accord at a meeting of Arctic nations in Alaska on Thursday, but said President Donald Trump was not rushing to decide whether to leave or weaken U.S. commitments to the pact.
The Arctic agreement Tillerson signed with foreign ministers from the other seven nations of the council, including Russia, Canada and Norway, made only a passing reference to the Paris pact. It noted “entry into force” of the pact and its implementation and called for global action to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.
Still, Tillerson’s signing of the document surprised a source close to the State Department. “We’d heard … that there would likely be a significant U.S. effort to redline or even remove entirely the Paris and climate language,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the talks.
Tillerson came around to the agreement after hours of debate following a dinner the council members ate together on Wednesday night, Denmark’s Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen told Reuters. Tillerson, a former chief executive of Exxon Mobil, is one of Trump’s advisers who supports staying in the agreement.
“He was happy about it; he seemed to be satisfied. We all were because it’s a big step,” Samuelsen said.
Tillerson told the council the Trump administration was reviewing how it will approach climate change but was not going to rush to make a decision on Paris. “We are appreciative that each of you has an important point of view,” said Tillerson. “We are going to make the right decision for the United States,” said Tillerson.
Trump is expected to make a decision on Paris after a Group of Seven summit at the end of May.
Finland’s Foreign Minister Timo Soini, whose country will chair the council for the next two years, praised U.S. leadership in the Arctic Council, but added that the Paris pact is an important tool in fighting climate change.
The council also signed an agreement on sharing science and data on the Arctic, an effort led by Russia and the United States, and addressed Arctic search and rescue and communications.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington; Editing by Tom Brown and James Dalgleish)