Clinton says world leaders calm about presidency

By WALTER R. MEARS

Associated Press

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei – Half a world away from the unsettled struggle for the White House, President Clinton told Russian President Vladimir Putin and other foreign leaders today that “there’s nothing to worry about” in the overtime contest to choose his successor.

He said there is plenty of time for the American system to work, and it will, to determine whether Vice President Al Gore, his chosen successor, or Republican Gov. George W. Bush was elected 43rd president in the disputed election Nov. 7.

“I think other leaders should have the same reaction the American people have,” Clinton told reporters in the lobby of a lavish Brunei guest house, with Putin at his side. “I think they’re pretty relaxed about it and we’ll let the process play out.”

Putin, through a translator, said Moscow is anxious but is respectfully awaiting the outcome. He said Clinton has led a breakthrough in U.S.-Russian relations, “and we expect this torch to be given to whoever will be the successor.”

Clinton and Putin conferred for 75 minutes over lunch at the Assara Guest House where the Russian is staying. It was their fourth meeting of the year, probably their last before Clinton leaves office on Jan. 20.

An administration official, briefing under ground rules that forbid use of his name, said their conference covered subjects including arms control, Iran, the Middle East, North Korea and the situation in Russia itself. Citing humanitarian grounds, Clinton also asked Putin to release Edmond Pope, an American imprisoned since April while he awaits trial on spy charges in Russia.

Putin on Monday had proposed deeper cuts in strategic arms than current U.S.-Russia arms accords would provide, although he did not give specific numbers. The administration official said Putin’s proposal “generally does not contain many new elements.” But he said there are a “few new twists” which the United States will study.

At a conference of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, which brought Clinton and 20 other leaders to this sultanate on the coast of Borneo, the president said either Gore or Bush would continue U.S. policy “of strong leadership for a more integrated global economy and expanded trade.”

Clinton said there was little disagreement between the two candidates on that issue. “On the question of leadership for trade, I think the world can rest easy,” the president told Asian and Pacific business executives in the ballroom of the ornate Empire Hotel and Country Club, overlooking the South China Sea.

It is the most extravagant of Brunei’s hotels, with inlaid gold in the wall panels and gold plate on armchairs in the lobby. “After I saw this facility I did not believe this was a small economy,” Clinton joked at the APEC session.

As Clinton left the hotel, he chatted briefly with Chinese President Jiang Zemin. They are scheduled to confer formally on Thursday.

Clinton also met today with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung.

They conferred for more than 40 minutes, dealing in particular with relations with Communist North Korea, and the possibility that Clinton might travel there before leaving office.

Wendy Sherman, State Department counselor, said Clinton got Kim’s thoughts on a possible presidential trip, once considered as part of his current travels in Asia, but dropped for lack of progress on U.S. efforts to end North Korean missile production.

“The president has not yet reached a decision on whether he will make a trip to North Korea,” Ms. Sherman said. She said he expects to decide in the very near future.

If the administration concludes that such a trip would help make significant progress on stopping missile construction, it would be an important factor in deciding whether to go, Ms. Sherman said.

Before the meeting with Kim, Clinton told reporters the U.S. election situation had come up “just briefly” in his discussions with other leaders in Brunei.

“They’re just interested in it. I told them it would all be worked out, the process was underway,” Clinton said.

Clinton kept a hand in Middle East settlement efforts, spending 50 minutes on the telephone Tuesday night with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. “The president pressed chairman Arafat to take immediate steps to end the violence,” said Jake Siewert, the White House press secretary.

Siewert said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to make the same call for an easing of the street strife that has shredded peace efforts.

The president’s business in Brunei was to deal with economic ties between the United States and Asian-Pacific nations. On Thursday, Clinton is flying to Hanoi for a three-day visit to Vietnam, the first by an American president since war there ended in communist victory 25 years ago.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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