Clinton backs U.S. troops but limits support to aid OPERATION RESTORE HOPE

December 05, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Staff Writer

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- President-elect Bill Clinton yesterda emphasized his support of the U.S.-led military effort in Somalia, though he and his aides made it clear that he backs only humanitarian relief.

"I support President Bush's decisions to dedicate United States forces in support of the United Nations' clearly defined humanitarian mission," Mr. Clinton said in a written statement.

"I have been kept informed of the administration's actions and was briefed on the president's decision this morning to provide U.S. forces," he said, after meeting here with representatives of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the CIA and State Department.

Mr. Clinton also reassured troops going to Somalia on a mission expected to continue past his inauguration Jan. 20. "America stands with you and supports your important mission," he said.

Mr. Clinton's carefully worded statements did not embrace any other possible use of the military -- to disarm Somali rebels, for example, or to stabilize the country.

Drawing such a distinction seems intended to preserve the President-elect's options and give him political and diplomatic maneuvering room. He and his aides have worried that U.S. forces could become mired in a long, messy conflict in Somalia that Mr. Clinton would be left to resolve.

Pressed by reporters to elaborate on Mr. Clinton's view of the mission, his communications director, George Stephanopoulos, would not do so. "Right now we support the humanitarian mission," he said, using the word "now" repeatedly in response to questions about the extent of Mr. Clinton's support.

Nor would Mr. Stephanopoulos be drawn into discussion of a timetable for withdrawing troops or what Mr. Clinton might do if U.S. forces are still there when he becomes president Jan. 20.

He would not comment on the discussion Mr. Clinton had earlier this week with Mr. Bush or the discussion he had yesterday with representatives of the military, intelligence and diplomatic branches of the government.

Nancy Soderberg, a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Clinton, said he asked a number of questions, but she would not elaborate.

The unusual in-person briefing reflects the continuing close communication between the White House and Mr. Clinton, not only on Somalia but other issues.

Peter W. Rodman, who was on the staff of the National Security Council during the Bush and Reagan administrations, lauded the actions of Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush in dealing with Somalia.

"Clinton has been quite correct in deferring to the incumbent administration," he said, praising the administration's "willingness to consult."

"I think what is good about this is there seems to be no conflict in philosophy," Mr. Rodman said. "If anything, there seems to be a shared approach."

During his campaign Mr. Clinton advocated multinational approaches to crises, rather than U.S.-only intervention.

In keeping with that, Mr. Clinton and his aides withheld comment on Mr. Bush's offer of aid until the U.N. Security Council voted Thursday to authorize force.

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