World leaders applaud Clinton U.N. standing ovation greets president as videotape rolls on TV

September 22, 1998|By MARK MATTHEWS | MARK MATTHEWS,Sun National Staff

WASHINGTON -- In a symbolic rebuff to America's absorption with the Monica Lewinsky scandal, leaders from around the world gave President Clinton a standing ovation and sustained applause yesterday as he appealed at the United Nations for a global war against terrorism.

Clinton gave his annual address to the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York while much of the country was watching broadcasts of his Aug. 17 grand jury testimony about his relationship with Lewinsky.

As the president climbed the U.N. podium, CNN was broadcasting his response to prosecutors' questions about whether he had enlisted his friend Vernon Jordan to help Lewinsky find a job.

Looking tired, with bags under his eyes, he thanked the delegates "for your very kind and generous welcome," after they gradually rose to their feet and applauded.

White House aides were quick to interpret the applause as a sign of worldwide respect for Clinton.

But Alvin P. Adams, president of the United Nations Association, saw it instead as a "personal vote of sympathy."

"People knew very well what was on every TV set," said Adams. While the reception for Clinton was more enthusiastic than is usually the case for U.N. speeches, it didn't match the louder clapping and two standing ovations that South African President Nelson Mandela received soon afterward, said Adams, a former U.S. ambassador to Haiti. Yesterday was Mandela's last annual General Assembly speech as president of South Africa. He has said he will resign after elections next spring.

Clinton used his speech in part to improve relations with the world's 1.1 billion Muslims, some of whom have questioned last month's U.S. missile attacks launched in retaliation for terrorist bombings at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The U.S. missiles struck an alleged terrorist camp in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan that the White House claims is linked to the development of chemical weaponry.

Clinton rejected the idea, popular among some scholars, that terrorism is rooted in an inevitable clash between Western and Islamic civilizations. He urged Muslims to reject "false prophets" who justify cold-blooded murder in the name of religion.

"Terror has become the world's problem," Clinton said, depicting it as both a killer and an insidious destroyer of free institutions and as not just a destroyer of lives .

"The only dividing line is between those who practice, support or tolerate terror and those who understand that it is murder, plain and simple," he said.

Clinton called on other countries to deny havens to terrorists, cut off sources of financing, and work to prevent their gaining access to chemical and biological weapons. He plans to ask Congress for $1.8 billion to protect U.S. facilities, to prevent acts of terrorism and track down suspects.

The standing ovation and sustained applause that greeted Clinton reflected his popularity in many countries and underlined bafflement around the world about America's absorption with the presidential sex scandal.

U.N. officials said it was the first standing ovation Clinton had received at the United Nations.

Clinton's speech on terrorism and his particular mention of Islam coincided with a slight thaw in the U.S. relationship with Iran, the VTC Islamic republic whose president, Mohammad Khatami, spoke to the General Assembly late yesterday afternoon.

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright joined in a U.N.-sponsored, eight-nation meeting last night to discuss the war in Afghanistan.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazzi had been expected to attend the meeting as well, making it the highest-level contact between the United States and Iran since the Iranian revolution of 1979. However, Kharazzi stayed away at the last minute without explanation, instead sending his deputy, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Reuters reported. Albright and the Iranian did not shake hands.

Iran has massed tens of thousands of troops on its border with Afghanistan in a threat to retaliate for the recent killing of nine Iranian diplomats by the Taliban militia that now controls most of Afghanistan. Iran's leaders and the Taliban represent different branches of Islam. Most Iranians are Shiites; the Taliban are Sunni.

In his own speech, Khatami called for U.N.-sponsored talks to establish a broad-based government in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

Clinton, referring to the deaths of the diplomats, cited the Iranian people as among the world's victims of terrorism. Significantly, he did not mention that the Iranian government is accused by the State Department of being a leading sponsor of terrorism.

Clinton said governments had to pay attention to conditions that foster terrorism, including a widening gap between haves and have-nots around the world, but dismissed as "terribly wrong" the idea that terrorism arises from a clash between Islamic and Western values.

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