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News briefs, part 2

House Passes Family Leave Bill

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

Congress moved toward breaking a seven-year deadlock on legislation to allow workers time off for family or medical emergencies as the House passed a family leave bill Wednesday night. The Senate, meanwhile, bogged down in controversy over voting on homosexuals in the military.

President Clinton has promised to sign the bill, likely to be the first passed in the 103rd Congress, in what Democrats said would be the first solid evidence of the easing of legislative gridlock. Former President George Bush vetoed similar bills twice.

Clinton told Democratic leaders Tuesday that he would like to sign a family leave bill this week, but the procedural maneuvering of Senate Republicans made it uncertain whether that timetable could be met. Congress is scheduled to take its mid-February recess next week.

The 265 to 163 vote on the Democratic-sponsored bill followed a day of debate marked by arguments made primarily along party lines and by Republican moves to contest the first floor votes of delegates from the District and four territories. The vote resembled a 258 to 169 one last September when the House fell short of a two-thirds majority to override a Bush veto of a similar bill.

The family and medical leave bill would require employers with 50 or more workers to allow each to take off as many as 12 weeks a year -- without pay -- for the birth or adoption of a child; to receive medical treatment; or to care for a sick child, spouse or parent. The same unpaid leave would be available to federal civil servants as well as employees of the House and Senate.

The bill would take effect six months after Clinton signs it.

Congressional opposition has been concentrated among Republican members who have said the government mandate would harm smaller businesses and increase the cost of American goods abroad, undermining U.S. competitiveness. .

Clinton Switches His Focus To Foreign Affairs

Newsday

WASHINGTON

International diplomacy leaped to the top of the Clinton administration's public agenda Thursday, as the president announced that Secretary of State Warren Christopher would make his first official trip abroad to promote Middle East peace talks.

In a statement on Christopher's mission, President Clinton said: "This is a historic moment. It can slip away all too easily. But if we seize the opportunity, we can begin now to construct a peaceful Middle East for future generations."

From Feb. 17 to 24, Christopher will visit Israel and an unspecified number of the Arab nations involved in or interested in the peace talks. Before flying home, he is expected to make some stops in Europe, including a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, said a senior U.S. official, to talk about the promised summit between Clinton and Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin.

Christopher's purpose "will be to convey to all parties my commitment to advance the peace negotiations," Clinton said in his statement. "He will elicit their views on how best to promote progress and he will discuss bilateral issues and regional problems, including Iraq."

Clinton's announcement comes one day after Christopher postponed regional Mideast talks scheduled for next week. The talks had gone nowhere since Israel deported more than 400 Palestinians Dec. 17.

Earlier this week, the secretary reached an agreement with Israel for the repatriation of some 100 deportees, with the rest to be permitted to return by the end of the year. The agreement was called inadequate by Arab governments, Palestinians and the deportees themselves. Palestinians continued to call for U.N. sanctions against Israel, and the Arab participants in the talks, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, scuttled the plan to resume them.

Downplaying any link between the trip announcement and the continuing deportee controversy, Judith Kipper, guest scholar on the Middle East at the Brookings Institution in Washington, predicted that the secretary would find it "very, very difficult" to resolve the current impasse. "In the long run," she said, "it doesn't help Israel for us to shield it when we can't legitimize that with multilateral approval."

Morocco Seeks NAFTA-Style Trade Pact With Europe

Los Angeles Times

RABAT, Morocco

Over a long lunch recently at a French country inn outside the Moroccan capital, a senior government official made an enthusiastic, if somewhat labored, analogy between this North African country and, of all places, Mexico.

Like Mexico, he said, Morocco has hundreds of thousands of emigrants working in the industrial lands to the north, sending money home to their families. Like Mexico, he said, Morocco in winter exports vast quantities of garden vegetables -- tomatoes, green peppers, zucchini -- to the colder, fresh produce-starved regions of the north.

To a number of Moroccan officials and European leaders, who see Morocco as an oasis of cheap labor and political moderation on the troubled northern edge of Africa, the comparison is not as far-fetched as it might seem.

Ever since the United States and Mexico, along with Canada, began to forge the incipient North American Free Trade Agreement, providing for the free flow of goods and services among the three partners, the Moroccan government has been itching to conclude the same kind of accord with the 12-nation European Community. Talk in Rabat bristles these days with schemes to adapt the Mexican model for Morocco.