Germany's chancellor praised U.S. President George W. Bush's call for a cut in oil consumption, telling international political and business leaders that Europe was eager to enter a trans-Atlantic race to reduce dependency on petroleum.
Chancellor Angela Merkel also urged the world to exploit the advantages of globalization, in a keynote speech to the World Economic Forum on Wednesday that listed battling climate change and security energy supplies as among the planet's key priorities.
Beside urging sharp reductions in oil use, Bush also appealed to Americans to take up problems in energy, health insurance and immigration and asked Congress in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night to give his Iraq strategy a chance to work.
But although Iraq and Middle East instability was shaping up to be a main theme at the meeting gathering world political and economic decision makers, Merkel restricted her comments on the Bush speech to his call to reduce U.S. oil consumption by a fifth within the next two decades.
"I hear more hopeful signals from the United States of America than was often the case in past years," she said, alluding to general European perceptions that the United States, the world's greatest energy consumer, was reluctant to wean itself from its oil dependance.
Citing Bush as pledging that "in the next 10 years ... consumption will be reduced by 20 percent," Merkel declared: That is an ambitious goal, and we can enter into a good competition."
Several other participants commented on a related Bush comment _ his pledge to seek US$1.6 billion (euro1.23 billion) in funding over the next decade for research into alternative energy.
Ex-U.S. Senator Timothy E. Wirth, a Colorado Democrat who was a former U.S. chief negotiator on the Kyoto Protocol meant to address climate change, noted that the remarks were short on specifics, but that Bush was "understanding finally that this is a serious issue that the U.S. has to address."
Wirth added that the U.S. needed to provide leadership, but suggested Bush was no longer able to deliver on he issue.
"We will wait for John McCain or Hilary Clinton ... or somebody who will be in a very different position in 2009," he said, referring to the two senators who are considered the front-runners for the Republican and Democratic parties in the 2008 election.
Merkel also spoke out strongly in favor of continued economic development, but warned against business as usual to the detriment of the world's poor and unstable nations.
"I know that responsibility grows with economic success," she said, touching on the meeting's main focus _ the world's economic and political "Shifting Power Equation" as new nations and regions emerge to challenge traditional Western supremacy
Such responsibility carries with it the need "to allow other regions to share in peace and prosperity and to keep our planet livable for coming generations," she said.
Beside Merkel, some 24 heads of state were due to attend at the five-day meeting, including British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who was warmly greeted in 2005 when he and Treasury chief Gordon Brown proposed massive debt relief for third world countries.
Another key issue is the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and securing the future of Iraq. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are among those attending the event, while Jordanian King Abdullah II will speak about the future of the Middle East.
Touching on concerns about the Middle East, Abbas told reporters on arrival: "I worry about Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon."
But Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa told the AP that it was unlikely any of those problems would solved.
"Don't ask (for) too much ...that we are going to solve the problem or sign documents here in Davos," he said.
In further comments illustrating Europe's concerns about energy, Merkel named secure supplies as one of the continent's priorities.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was interested in "rules anchored in writing and following free market rules," she said, referring to talks Sunday with Putin that focused on European worries about Moscow's reliability as an energy supplier. Still, she urged Europe to reduce its energy dependency by "strengthening energy research."
On globalization, she acknowledged that the concept "frightens many people," but added she was convinced that "globalization offers the world of today many more chances than risks" through the global trickle-down effect of a robust economic climate.
Merkel also pledged to kick-start a new effort to agree on a common EU constitution, promising to come up with a new plan by July.
And she said Germany would push efforts to rescucitate the Doha round six months after trade talks stumbled in Qatar's capital over disputes pitting rich and poor nations against each other on how to slash subsidies and cut tariffs for international trade in goods and agriculture.