President charms Europeans, bristles at U.S. press

January 14, 1994|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Staff Writer

MOSCOW -- His European hosts may not see it, but as his ambitious, eight-day trip wears on, President Clinton is fraying a bit around the edges.

Mr. Clinton appears to be saying all the right things to European leaders on delicate policy issues -- and he seems to be personally pleasing to the European public.

On his first European trip as president, he has sold his "Partnership for Peace" plan across the continent. He has charmed shopkeepers in Brussels, swigged beer and played jazz in Prague, complimented the Ukrainians on their food and cheerfully walked the streets of Moscow amid throngs of admiring Russians.

But when among his fellow Americans, Mr. Clinton has, at times, been ill-tempered and angry on this trip, especially over continued questions on Whitewater Development Corp.:

* In Prague on Wednesday, Mr. Clinton gave the networks separate, on-camera interviews with the ground rules being only two questions each. NBC White House correspondent Jim Miklaszewski asked a question -- and a follow-up -- about sentiments building in Congress for a special counsel to look into Whitewater.

Mr. Clinton answered both with a heated defense of himself and then ended the interview by tearing off his microphone, rising from his chair and leaving the room abruptly. "Two questions, Jim," the president snapped. "I'm sorry you're not interested in the trip."

* That night, at a joint news conference in Kiev with Ukrainian President Leonid M. Kravchuk, Ann Compton of ABC asked a Whitewater question. The president, looking displeased, curtly refused to discuss it -- even though, at that very hour, White House officials were announcing in Washington that the president had decided to request an independent counsel.

* Yesterday, at a reception at Spaso House here, the president became irritated when a Moscow-based U.S. reporter, invited as a guest, asked another guest what Mr. Clinton had said in their conversation. The president complained to Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering, who instructed the reporter to put away her notebook.

* Later, Mr. Clinton ran into Carey Goldberg of the Los Angeles Times, who introduced herself to Mr. Clinton. He immediately snapped, without amplification, that he knew how "that story" originated and told Ms. Goldberg that if her editors knew its real origins they wouldn't have printed it.

The president apparently was referring to a Los Angeles Times piece published last month relating four Arkansas state troopers' allegations of sexual escapades by Mr. Clinton when he was governor.

Asked why the president has such a foul attitude toward the huge press entourage that has followed him here and provided essentially positive coverage, administration officials shrug and say nothing. Privately, some White House officials have expressed frustration that the Whitewater issue followed the president across the Atlantic. Most blame the press.

Another possible explanation for the president's irritation was provided by White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers. She described the president, who has been working late and getting up early, as being tired.

Some of the administration's foreign policy specialists realize that it was the White House that let the issue fester until the president was abroad. But asked whom they blamed for the mess, two such officials shrugged and gave an answer the president probably wishes he could give: "I don't do Whitewater."

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