Clinton and Kohl share big problem CLINTON IN EUROPE

January 11, 1994|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Staff Writer

BRUSSELS -- President Clinton, writing a new chapter in "How to Win Friends and Influence People," yesterday spotted Helmut Kohl -- the one European leader he actually considers a friend -- and promptly needled the hefty German chancellor about his weight.

"I was thinking of you last night, Helmut, because I watched the sumo wrestling on television," Mr. Clinton said. But if the president was accusing his Teutonic buddy of being a fatty, he quickly added that he was one himself.

Mingling with the Western leaders before the opening session of NATO's summit, Mr. Clinton told Mr. Kohl, "You and I are the biggest people here, and we are still a whole 100 pounds too light [to be sumo wrestlers]. We are too small."

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Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher, briefing the U.S. and world press one day after he snoozed during Mr. Clinton's kick-off speech, used Reaganesque self-deprecation to deal with his own faux pas.

"I'll be brief," Mr. Christopher said with a smile. "I want to be very careful not to put any of you to sleep."

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If Mr. Clinton spent more time hanging around with French President Francois Mitterrand, he wouldn't have to endure the long-running jokes about operating on "Clinton time."

The chronically late Mr. Mitterrand even showed up tardy for the opening of the NATO summit. His motorcade pulled up just before 10 a.m. for an opening session scheduled to begin at 9:45. About a half-hour later, as the NATO leaders were ushered into a large hallway for the traditional group photo, one man was missing.

It was Mr. Mitterrand, again, who straggled in after the others.

"Compared to him, Bill Clinton is as prompt as a Swiss train," quipped one administration official.

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Clearly enjoying his first visit to Europe as president, Mr. Clinton also kibbitzed with everyone he ran into, often searching out rather tenuous areas of common ground.

To the Icelandic delegation, the president related how he used to stop off at Iceland's Reykjavik airport when he was traveling to England to study.

Walking by the Italian section, Mr. Clinton admired a pipe sitting on the desk and said he used to smoke one but had to stop because of his allergies.

He also thanked a group of Belgians for their hospitality. One asked him if he'd had a chance to sample "a real Belgian beer." The president responded that he had wanted to, but because he was operating on virtually no sleep the day before, he'd refrained.

"I was afraid I'd fall over in public," he said, adding that if he had, when he returned home everyone would say, "You embarrassed us in Brussels."

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The president also went jogging on his first morning in Europe. At the pre-dawn hour of 6:30 a.m., his motorcade dropped him off at the Bois de la Cambre park, where he ran twice around the lake. There weren't many Belgians up and about at that hour, but the president waved to a small group of U.S. White House correspondents and called out a cheery, "Good morning!"

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Four hours later, the president was talking to his fellow leaders at the NATO summit when NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell asked him if he was going to agree to air strikes against Serbian gunners in Bosnia.

Pointing to British Prime Minister John Major, Mr. Clinton quipped, "Ask John a question, Andrea. He's lonesome."

The irrepressible Ms. Mitchell did precisely that, turning to Mr. Major and asking, "Are you now going to agree to air strikes?"

British reluctance to take strong action in Bosnia had become a bit of a sore point, and Mr. Clinton, looking slightly stricken, realized that his kidding may have put Mr. Major on the spot. The president immediately retracted his suggestion.

"No! Don't ask John a question," he said, laughing.

Not to worry. The taciturn Mr. Major didn't reply anyway.

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