Clinton begins eight-day foray onto worldstage

January 09, 1994|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau David Rocks, reporting from Prague, contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton arrives in Europe today determined to put his stamp on the historic and tumultuous changes sweeping the continent.

In eight days of dawn-to-late night negotiations, televised speeches, tours and public appearances, the president will face a vast array of fundamentally important issues that not only will help mold the post-Cold War world, but also shape perceptions of him at home and abroad.

These issues range from the desire of the new democracies in Eastern Europe to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to the complicated negotiations with the Ukrainians over dismantling their leftover nuclear arsenal. They include the desire to bolster Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin and the reform movement he represents, but also trying to nudge him into pulling Russian troops out of two tiny Baltic nations, Estonia and Latvia, that were once part of the Soviet Union.

And as if all that weren't enough, the White House has tacked onto the end of the trip a meeting in Switzerland with Syria's President Hafez el Assad in the hope of moving along the Middle East Peace process.

But Europe is the focus of this trip.

"Nothing is more important to our security than our relations with Europe," Vice President Al Gore said last week. "Two world wars left us with a lesson that is understood in every VFW and American Legion hall . . . across our nation: When Europe fights, we suffer; when Europe is safe and free, we thrive here in the United States."

The stakes are high for Mr. Clinton, too.

Last April's Canadian summit with Mr. Yeltsin in Vancouver, British Columbia, and last summer's meeting of world leaders in Tokyo were mere tuneups for this trip, which will take him to Brussels, Belgium; Prague, Czech Republic; Moscow; Minsk, Belarus; and Geneva. It is the president's first major foray onto the world stage.

The venture comes at a time that Mr. Clinton's approval rating is on the upswing at home, except in one area, foreign and military policy.

The Europeans are even more skeptical about Mr. Clinton, who said in October that Washington was beset with a "Eurocentric attitude" and that Western Europe "is no longer the dominant area of the world."

In addition, Mr. Clinton has wavered on so many crucial foreign policy issues that few on the continent have a strong sense of where he stands on anything. The biggest sore spot is Bosnia. Even when he has seemed to take a strong position, he has backed away. Last year, for example, the president announced plans to bomb Serbian positions and arm the Muslims only to reverse himself in the face of British and French opposition.

His advisers hope that a strong performance by Mr. Clinton and his foreign policy team in the coming week will instill confidence in him among European leaders as well as among voters back home.

Which Bill Clinton?

But one German-based Western diplomat said last week that many Europeans wonder which Bill Clinton will show up in Belgium today.

Will it be the vacillating one who personally promised Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel that he would end ethnic genocide in Bosnia -- and who then washed his hands of the whole mess?

Or will it be the forceful Bill Clinton who took on the most powerful constituency in his own party -- organized labor -- and faced it down over the North American Free Trade Agreement?

In any case, the Clinton odyssey begins this morning in Brussels, at NATO headquarters.

There, to forestall the clamor by several formerly Soviet-dominated nations for admittance into NATO, the president will push his administration's compromise, dubbed the Partnership for Peace.

Under it, any nation in the region -- including Russia -- would submit a "commitment document" in which it would state which military forces it would propose making available to NATO and the partnership. In addition, these nations would pledge to do the following:

* Move toward or continue to establish an elective democracy with free markets.

* Ensure civilian control over the military.

* Make military budgets available to NATO -- and to neighbors.

* Agree to peaceful resolution of disputes with NATO nations and other members of the partnership.

The White House insists this is not a rebuff of Polish President Lech Walesa, who wants immediate entry into NATO, or of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, known collectively as the Visegrad Four.

"That's why I'm going to him," Mr. Clinton said last week, in a reference to the second stop on his tour, in Prague. "We're going to try to make everybody feel good about this approach."

'Evolutionary' process

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