Not so innocent abroad Clinton trip: Telling some truths that Russians don't want to hear and some that the Irish do.

September 06, 1998

RUSSIA'S crisis was going badly, whatever President Clinton might say or do. Northern Ireland's journey for the moment was going well, regardless of him.

Still, the president, under ferocious pressure at home, achieved his objective abroad. Earth-shaking? No. Positive? Yes.

Mr. Clinton's message in Moscow was clear, directed to the capitalist oligarchs running affairs and the Communists dominating the Duma. He was supporting policies they oppose -- open markets, honest tax collection, no inflation, no bailing out the privileged, fair treatment of creditors. He spoke with some authority, in effect for the world banking community.

That, rather than political meddling, was the help he provided Boris Yeltsin. He was supporting policies, not personalities.

He was bringing the full weight of the free world behind staying the reform course in Russia, for whatever that is worth.

Northern Ireland was a different matter. Mr. Clinton's role has to do with Sinn Fein-IRA's tradition of seeking private American support. He made it easier for Sinn Fein's leader, Gerry Adams, to say the right things and for his deputy, Martin McGuinness, to hint at IRA compliance with the system and a timetable for scrapping weapons that is integral to the Good Friday peace accord. They did these things as if to give a present to Mr. Clinton.

Virtually all of the Catholic and nationalist community in Northern Ireland and the citizens of the Irish Republic want the Northern Ireland assembly government to succeed. The Protestant and unionist majority is divided. Anyone seeking peace in Northern Ireland must try to influence Protestant opinion. In helping to usher Sinn Fein-IRA into compliance with the accord, Mr. Clinton was doing his share.

It was not a groundbreaking trip abroad. Nonetheless, President Clinton was showing U.S. leadership, and putting it on the line in Moscow where success may be doubtful. Making that attempt goes with his job.

Pub Date: 9/06/98

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