France to Kerry: Yes, climate deal will be 'legally binding'

Francis Rivera

Leaders in France and the European Union are sparring with Secretary of State John KerryJohn KerrySenate poised to override Obama veto Overnight Defense: Debate night is here | Senate sets vote on 9/11 veto override | Kerry, McCain spar over Syria US to consider removing Colombian rebel group FARC from terror list MORE, saying that an upcoming United Nations climate change agreement should be “legally binding.”

Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister, responded Thursday to Kerry’s insistence that the agreement is not a treaty and should not have legal force, saying Kerry might have been “confused.”

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“Jurists will discuss the legal nature of an accord on whether it should be termed as a treaty or an international agreement,” Fabius told reporters in Paris, according to Reuters.

“But the fact that a certain number of dispositions should have a practical effect and be legally binding is obvious so let's not confuse things, which is perhaps what Mr. Kerry has done,” he said.

Fabius met with Kerry Wednesday, after Kerry was quoted in the Financial Times saying that the deal due to be finalized next month is “definitively not going to be a treaty.”

The European Union agreed with France.

“The Paris agreement must be an international legally binding agreement,” a spokeswoman for EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete told the Guardian Thursday. “The title of the agreement is yet to be decided but it will not affect its legally binding form.”

Avoiding a treaty has been the long-standing position of the Obama administration, which argues that previous attempts to get a worldwide climate pact, like the Kyoto Protocol and the 2009 Copenhagen meetings, failed to have much impact largely because countries could not agree to such stringent, internationally binding terms.

Instead, the Obama administration and some world leaders want the agreement, due to be signed next month in Paris, to be the sum of contributions from each country, based on what that country believes is possible.

That format would also allow President Obama to argue that the pact is not a treaty and does not require Senate ratification, a high bar that requires two-thirds of the Senate.

“This is not a political discussion. This is a real accord with facts,” Fabius told Reuters, acknowledging political difficulties Obama faces in the United States.