Global issues bring Clinton, Bush together

January 10, 1993|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,Staff Writer

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The nation is witnessing one of the mos unusual transitions in recent history as the Bush administration and the Clinton team work closely together on important foreign policy issues.

What started as a flow of information from Washington to Little Rock has been quietly converted into a process of consultation and cooperation.

The most active relationship has developed between President Bush's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, and his Clinton administration replacement, Anthony Lake, according to Clinton aides. Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger and the secretary-designate, Warren M. Christopher, have also begun meeting, holding two private sessions last week, one on Haiti and the other on Iraq.

Those two flash points have brought the political victors and the vanquished together in what is developing as a seamless shift of power.

"We are seeing more consultation on foreign policy as we move (( closer to the inauguration," acknowledged Clinton spokesman George Stephanopoulos, who said the Clinton transition team was "very gratified with the cooperation we have had with the State Department."

While such cooperation makes sense and ought to be expected of every transition, other transfers of power have been notable for the outgoing administration's failure to share important information with the president-elect.

"As far as the public record is concerned, this is clearly a departure. Where you have a full switch in administration with a new party coming in, the history has been for one party or the other to pull surprises or leave surprises," said Howard McCurdy, professor of public affairs at American University who has studied political transitions.

Dr. McCurdy cited Dwight D. Eisenhower's inadequate briefing of John F. Kennedy on the plans for the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and Jimmy Carter's suspicions that Ronald Reagan was conducting parallel negotiations with Iran for release of the U.S. hostages during the transition period.

"The history is generally one of antagonism, or lack of information, lack of communication, of one side not knowing what is going on," Dr. McCurdy said.

The personal relationship between Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton has been cordial from the start of the transition, despite some nasty rhetoric during the campaign.

Perhaps significantly, a scheduled one-hour meeting between Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton at the White House in November lasted for three hours. That appeared to set the cooperative tone for the transition period.

Much of the cooperation has focused on foreign policy matters because it is an area where continuity is vital to U.S. interests.

Domestically, the Clinton appointees are concentrating on establishing close contacts with Congress, where the fate of their major initiatives will be decided. Here there is less need for contact with the Bush administration, because Mr. Clinton campaigned on changing domestic policies.

The most significant demonstration of the close ties between the Bush and Clinton camps came last week when Mr. Eagleburger and Mr. Christopher issued a joint statement calling for a return to democracy in Haiti. Remarkably, the initiative was proposed by Mr. Christopher and accepted by Mr. Eagleburger.

Mr. Clinton, in his words, was "consulted" before the ultimatum by Mr. Bush and U.S. allies was delivered to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein last week to remove threatening missiles from a "no-fly" zone over southern Iraq or face military action.

He made it clear that he supported Mr. Bush's refusal to tolerate any violations of the United Nations resolution by the Iraqi dictator and was involved in discussions about how to respond.

"I wouldn't say I've been involved in every step of the way, but I have been involved in the general policy," Mr. Clinton said Friday.

"And they've been quite good about staying in touch with us on those things on a regular [basis] for some time now."

With the inauguration only 10 days away, Mr. Clinton is edging closer toward assuming the powers of the presidency.

This week, for instance, he is expected to make what his spokesman called "an announcement" on Haiti, aimed at forestalling a flood of Haitian boat people who think they may get a more sympathetic reception from the new administration.

On Friday, Mr. Clinton met with Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, with whom he will negotiate labor and environmental aspects of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The same day, Vice President-elect Al Gore met privately with Bosnian President Alija Izetbejovic to discuss the turmoil in former Yugoslavia and how the United States should respond.

A Bush administration official stressed that Mr. Clinton was not making foreign policy decisions. But he readily acknowledged that the Clinton team had been included in discussions of policies it will inherit in less than two weeks.

"There is only one president," this official said. "At the same time, we are interested as much as we can in not letting things go to pot and leaving a mess on the doorstep for the new president. That is not good for us, for him, or the U.S. in general.

"There is a strong interest in a very smooth transition and not letting things go askew."

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