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World’s Largest Polluters To Meet On First Day Of Climate Talks

By Justin Sink, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will meet with the leaders of China and India on the opening day of talks in Paris to reach an international climate agreement, a symbolic gesture that the White House says underscores the commitment of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases to tackle rising global temperatures.

The announcement last year by China, the world’s largest polluter, of a commitment to cut its carbon emissions after secret negotiations with the U.S. is credited with helping drive momentum for the Paris meeting. Under the agreement, China said its emissions will peak by 2030 as it increasingly turns to clean energy sources.

The Obama administration has had more difficulty winning agreement with India. Officials there reacted angrily after Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview last week with the Financial Times that the nation posed a “challenge” for the Paris talks.

The meetings with China’s Xi Jinping and India’s Narendra Modi, both on Monday, the first day of the United Nations summit, are intended to “send the strong message to the world about their shared commitment,” White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said in a conference call with journalists.

The Obama administration hopes that the president’s attendance at the first two days of the climate talks can help “generate momentum for a successful outcome,” Rhodes said.

In addition to his meetings with the Chinese and Indian leaders, Obama next Tuesday will meet with representatives of island nations most at risk from rising sea levels. Those countries and other developing nations want the industrialized world to provide money to help them mitigate the effects of climate change and subsidize their own transitions from carbon-emitting fossil fuels.

The White House hopes the talks will produce specific, verifiable pollution-reduction targets for the next 15 years and also lay groundwork for further reductions in the future, said Paul Bodnar, the senior director for energy and climate change with the National Security Council. The world’s wealthiest nations also want to settle on financing to assist developing countries — a difficult commitment for the Obama administration, which faces resistance in Congress from Republicans still skeptical of scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change.

“There is a lot of hard work ahead,” Bodnar said.

The climate summit also provides world leaders including Obama the opportunity to show solidarity against terrorism after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the violence, and French President Francois Hollande declared the attacks an act of war by the extremists.

White House aides say Obama is likely to find some way to memorialize the dead during his visit, and that he and Hollande will hold a working dinner to discuss both the progress of the climate talks and their joint military campaign against Islamic State.

The pair met Tuesday at the White House and pledged to increase the pace of airstrikes against Islamic State targets and improve intelligence sharing between their militaries. Hollande is scheduled to meet Wednesday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Hollande and Obama agreed that an alliance with Russia against Islamic State won’t be possible unless Putin’s forces in Syria begin targeting the extremist group instead of more moderate rebel groups opposed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, a Russian ally.

White House officials would not say whether Obama planned to meet with Putin during the summit. Rhodes noted the two leaders usually talk on the sidelines of meetings they both attend.

©2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama takes part in the APEC CEO Summit in Manila, Philippines, November 18, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Hollande Meeting With Obama: 4 Things To Watch

By John T. Bennett, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — French President Francois Hollande will find a reluctant partner in President Barack Obama when the two leaders meet Tuesday at the White House.

Lawmakers and experts expect Hollande will ask Obama to take new action against the Islamic State extremist group after the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris. But Obama has pledged to provide “whatever resources” France needs and defensively signaled he is not inclined to alter his strategy against the group.

Hollande is due to huddle with Obama on Tuesday to discuss how to respond to the Paris attacks. The French leader will not stay overnight, instead flying to Moscow for a similar meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

During remarks on Nov. 16 in Turkey, Obama made clear he remains opposed to a large-scale military operation featuring tens of thousands — or more — U.S. ground forces in Iraq or Syria. Instead, he and other senior U.S. officials have repeatedly predicted an “intensification” of airstrikes and other tactics already being employed.

That same day, Hollande delivered a much more hawkish address to a joint session of France’s parliament.

“That difference is striking,” said Jeffrey Lightfoot, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “Based on the conversation I’ve had with them, the French are coming here with tempered expectations. They know Obama isn’t interested in changing the strategy very much. Hollande isn’t coming to rock the boat.”

For the first time in recent history, the French president is coming to Washington in a much more militaristic mood than his American counterpart. Here’s what Hollande likely will seek from Obama:

1. The enemy of my enemy. Since the Islamic State claimed it took down a Russian airliner in Egypt earlier this month, Russia has signaled a greater willingness to hit Islamic State targets in Syria. Previously, U.S. officials complained Russian airstrikes were mostly aimed at helping Syrian President Bashar Assad remain in power.

“I think he’s going to ask, first off, for the United States to work more with Russia,” Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., who serves on a House Armed Services subcommittee that monitors intelligence issues, told CQ Roll Call. The crux of Hollande’s expected request will be for both Obama and Putin — and their militaries — “to be more willing to cooperate.”

“I’m sure Obama and Hollande will want to talk about how operations in Syria will change the Vienna talks,” Lightfoot said, referring to ongoing multinational talks held in the Austrian city about Syria’s future.

Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush, agreed that Russian involvement will give both leaders ample pause — and conversation fodder. “This is just as divisive an issue in France as it is in the United States,” he said. “We’re really not going for the same objectives. The Russians want to maintain their bases in Syria and keep their friend, Assad, in power.

2. Got intel, targets? The United States has been bombing Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq since the summer of 2014. That means U.S. military and intelligence entities have been closely monitoring the group’s command and training centers, ammunition storehouses, oil transportation capabilities and other potential targets.

Hollande will be eager to degrade everything from the group’s leaders and rank-and-file fighters to its equipment to how it generates funding for its operations. U.S. officials provided some targets hit by French war planes during airstrikes that Hollande ordered two days after the Paris attacks. It is likely he will ask Obama to increase that kind of operational collaboration.

“I would expect greater intelligence sharing to be on the list,” House Intelligence ranking member Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., said recently. “Sharing information, and at a greater rate, has proven successful in the past.

Lightfoot said he expects what the two leaders “will really focus on” is stepping up intelligence sharing and targeting. “I think the conversation will center around the question of, ‘How do we make the most of all the capabilities we have there?”

3. Arms for allies. Experts said it is unlikely Hollande would press Obama on sending U.S. and French ground troops into Syria and Iraq. That’s because Obama spent much of last week making clear he had no appetite for another large-scale U.S. military operation in the Middle East.

“Will Hollande urge Obama to use more troops? Maybe not,” Abrams said. “Or maybe he’ll tell Obama, ‘If we’re really serious, we need to put more boots on the ground.”

What’s more likely is the French leader will ask the U.S. to provide more weapons to local forces that have been fighting Islamic State in both countries. “Hollande very well could ask that the U.S. give more military support to the Kurds,” Abrams said. “We could give more weapons to the Iraqi Sunnis. We could give more to Syrian rebel forces.”

4. Obama’s demands. Experts agree that if Hollande is in a hawkish mood, he will find a tough audience in Obama. But no matter the French president’s mindset on Tuesday, the U.S. commander in chief likely will come armed with some demands of his own.

One will be to keep a close on eye on Putin, should Hollande determine he has to at least give greater counter-Islamic State cooperation a shot. Another could be a plea to take steps to limit civilian casualties in Syria, which the Obama administration in other theaters has warned can become recruiting tools for groups such as Islamic State.

Abrams predicts that if Obama presses Hollande to avoid striking some targets, “that won’t be received very well by the French.” Should that occur, he said the U.S. president should be prepared to “be reminded that the French have closely monitored civilian casualties caused by our drone strikes.”

Still, Lightfoot said “it seems the United States and France are moving the scale toward being more aggressive one what risk that are willing to take.” But the issue could become a sticking point for the duo, he warned, because “when the French take the gloves off, they really take them off.”

Photo: French President Francois Hollande addressing the world after the Paris attacks. REUTERS/Reuters TV/Pool

U.S. To Slap Record $8.9 Bn Fine On BNP Paribas

New York (AFP) — French bank BNP Paribas has agreed to pay U.S. authorities a $8.9 billion fine to avoid being tried in court for dealing with U.S.-blacklisted countries, sources close to the matter told AFP.

The deal ends months of haggling which saw French President Francois Hollande pressing his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama to intervene and lighten the punishment.

Agreement on the record fine, approved by the bank’s board of directors at a special weekend meeting in Paris, is due to be announced Monday after markets close at the New York Stock Exchange around 4:00 p.m.

The U.S. Justice Department and New York banking regulator Benjamin Lawsky will make separate announcements, another source said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

BNP declined requests for a public comment.

At least $2 billion of the fine will go to Lawsky, who is temporarily suspending parts of BNP’s dollar-handling business in the United States — key to any major bank’s U.S. operations — for all of 2015.

Sources said the suspension would take place progressively since BNP has operations underway.

BNP, France’s largest bank, has until December 31 to find a bank that agrees to make dollar payments on its behalf.

The deal forces BNP to plead guilty to the bank’s deals from 2002 to 2009 with countries that Washington has blacklisted like Cuba, Iran, and Sudan.

The investigation probed more than $100 billion of transactions, finding that $30 billion of that amount were concealed in order to skirt the sanctions.

– Too tough on BNP? –

BNP has a strong enough capital base to handle the penalty, but the size of the fine and the temporary suspension of parts of its dollar-handling business — key to any major bank’s U.S. operations — will mean a significant hit on its earnings.

BNP chief executive Jean-Laurent Bonnafe reportedly wrote to employees on Friday conceding the bank will be “punished severely,” but stressing that “this difficulty … will not impact our roadmap.”

U.S. authorities have already forced BNP to dismiss three senior officials allegedly linked to the sanctions violations, including its chief operating officer.

Lower bank officials could also be fired as part of the settlement.

Sources say the settlement could include a year-long suspension of the bank’s dollar clearing for oil and gas trading activities in Switzerland, Singapore, and France, and suspension of dollar clearing on behalf of other banks and some clients.

That would likely be a blow to the bank’s bottom line. In 2013 BNP reported total profits of 4.83 billion euros ($6.59 billion) on revenues of 38.8 billion euros. It has already set aside $1.1 billion to cover losses from the case.

BNP has been largely quiet about the allegations and potential penalties during months of negotiations.

Critics have accused Washington of being especially tough with foreign banks, and BNP in particular, while treating U.S. banking transgressions more lightly.

In punishing U.S. banks for financial crisis-related violations, negotiated fines have run into the billions but none has had to plead guilty, an act which could lead to the loss of a banking license.

In 2012 Dutch bank ING paid a relatively paltry $619 million financial crisis, and Britain’s Standard Chartered $670 million. HSBC, which was also accused of complicity in money laundering, paid $1.9 billion.

None were forced to plead guilty or halt certain banking operations.

But US authorities have become much tougher on banks that are less cooperative in investigations.

– ‘Negative consequences’ –

In May, Credit Suisse pleaded guilty to helping Americans evade taxes and was fined $2.6 billion, over three times the $780 million fine US authorities imposed on fellow Swiss bank UBS for the same charges in 2009.

Analysts say the size of the BNP fine relates to the size of the business it did with Sudan and Iran, several times larger than that handled by ING and Standard Chartered.

The BNP controversy has been a thorn in U.S.-France relations. French officials warned in early June that it could cause problems for the huge transatlantic trade treaty under negotiation between the European Union and the United States.

“Evidently… this risks having negative consequences,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius ominously warned.

Hollande also raised the issue with Obama during a dinner in Paris.

Fabius said that Hollande had told Obama the case is “very important for Europe and for France,” saying if BNP is weakened it would “create a very negative interference in Europe and its economy.”

But even before the dinner, Obama had signaled he would stay out of a legal issue.

“The rule of law is not determined by political expediency,” he said.

AFP Photo / Loic Venance

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