Clinton against imposing an 'artificial timetable'

December 09, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Washington Bureau Staff writer Tom Bowman contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- In his most extensive comments on the U.S. military role in Somalia, President-elect Bill Clinton said yesterday that an "artificial timetable cannot be imposed upon" the U.S.-led mission.

But while Mr. Clinton and Vice President-elect Al Gore said they support President Bush's decision to send troops to Somalia, they cautioned that the exercise will not determine their own administration's policy on military intervention.

Mr. Gore warned against a "tendency . . . to take a specific set of circumstances and try to lock it into some grandiose doctrine that then creates pressure to use similar force in all kinds of other situations. And that need not be done in this case."

Mr. Clinton said only that he would not rule out the use of military forces for humanitarian purposes in other places, and repeated his call for stronger international action to protect civilians from the brutal fighting and "ethnic cleansing" in the former Yugoslavia.

While he said he understood the Bush administration's unwillingness to commit U.S. ground troops to Bosnia, Mr. Clinton said, "there may be other things which can be done."

He did not say what he might do after he takes office Jan. 20.

On the Somali relief effort -- which is likely to still be under way when he becomes president -- he reiterated his position that the U.S. military role should be confined to the support of humanitarian relief efforts.

If an effort is made to help rebuild Somalia's "political infrastructure," it should be done with a multinational peacekeeping force, perhaps with "off-shore" U.S. support, he said.

How long U.S. troops should remain there "depends on how long takes to accomplish the mission" of establishing "secure and maintainable supply lines for food, for medicine, for other relief that's necessary," Mr. Clinton said, fielding questions at a news conference in the Capitol following meetings with members of Congress.

The tone of his remarks about the former Yugoslavia was consistent with his campaign statements, in which he prodded Mr. Bush to push more forcefully for international action and urged a ban on Serbian combat flights over Bosnia. The Bush administration successfully pushed the United Nations to declare a ban but has not pushed for enforcement. Mr. Clinton also said last summer that "we have to consider whether or not we should lift the arms embargo now on the Bosnians."

Mr. Clinton, who emphasized domestic issues in the campaign and said he would "focus like a laser beam" on the economy, is finding that foreign issues will demand his attention. He conceded that "our administration will be forced to spend a lot of time on foreign policy, whether we want to or not."

"It is a wonderful thing that the Cold War is over," he said. "But let's also admit that the end of the bipolar world has made it possible to peel a layer off human aggression and made it possible in some parts of the world for people to be starved, brutalized and killed with much greater abandon than would have been the case when either the U.S. or the Soviet Union

could tell any nation in the world to shape up."

He said he believes "that only the U.S. can play the leadership role that we ought to be playing to try to stick up for the alleviation of human suffering, the continued march of democracy and human rights, and the continued growth of market economies."

"We can either try to focus on these problems, get ahead of them . . . or we can ignore it for a while, wait for it to explode, then the problems will swarm on us and I might have to spend all my time on foreign policy," he said, answering a question about whether foreign crises would distract him from domestic economic concerns.

To prevent that, "we're trying to develop a disciplined, aggressive approach that will permit us the freedom to focus on America's problems at home," he added.

Mr. Clinton also was asked about U.S. policy toward Haiti, which he had promised to alter.

Yesterday, Mr. Clinton told members of Congress that the federal government must help states burdened with refugees, according to Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-Md.

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