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A day before President Barack Obama departed for Beijing last weekend, the main attraction of his trip still wasn’t ready.
Top administration officials had worked secretly for months to nail down a major climate change deal with China that could be the centerpiece of his first visit to the country in five years, and perhaps a key part of his presidential legacy. But even as Air Force One was being primed for its 7,000-mile journey, special White House adviser John Podesta and U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern were still negotiating the deal’s terms with their Chinese counterparts, including the crucial question of what its future emissions targets would be. It wasn’t even clear until shortly before Obama was wheels up that the Americans and Chinese would announce the deal jointly, something that would be crucial to its credibility. “There was some drama,” says a senior administration official.