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Clinton Says Administration Off To Good Start in World Affairs

By Ruth Marcus
The Washington Post


President Clinton Thursday responded to critics of his foreign policy, declaring at a news conference that his administration was off to a "pretty good beginning" in world affairs.

Clinton told reporters Thursday that on "the biggest issues affecting the future and the security of the United States we have a good record." Clinton pointed to his administration's efforts to maintain stability in Russia ("the most important issue"), support the Middle East peace process, promote nuclear non-proliferation, forge a new relationship with Japan and hold "the most successful meeting of the G-7 (international economic summit) in over a decade." He said the United States is finally "moving in the right direction" in Somalia.

The deaths of American soldiers in Somalia, and the collapse of a U.N.-mediated agreement in Haiti, have revived and intensified doubts, reflected in public-opinion polls, about Clinton's leadership abilities in foreign affairs, an area in which the former Arkansas governor had little experience before becoming president.

Clinton seized the opportunity of the release of American helicopter pilot Michael J. Durant in Mogadishu to call a news conference designed to display his understanding of foreign policy and to try to dispel the mounting public dissatisfaction.

Saying he had assumed the presidency at a time when the United States is facing a "new and different world," Clinton said he thought he was doing a good job of leading the United States in an uncharted international environment. "I think that in this new world we made a pretty good beginning, and clearly on the things that affect us most," he said.

Clinton also cited as evidence on his side the administration's policy in Haiti. He said that "when I took office, what we had was everybody in Haiti thinking about whether they could leave and come to the United States because they thought there was no way that anybody would ever stick up for the democratic process in Haiti."

But after the election, Clinton's incoming administration was facing a potential flood of refugees from Haiti precisely because of Clinton's promise during the campaign -- later described as "unsound" by Secretary of State Warren Christopher -- to reverse Bush administration policy and grant Haitian boat people a hearing about whether they qualified as refugees.

Clinton acknowledged problems with a mission in Somalia that he said was mistakenly "transformed into a military endeavor" after the deaths of 24 Pakistani peacekeepers and a U.N. resolution, supported by the United States, to go after the man deemed responsible, Gen. Mohammed Farrah Aidid.

On Somalia, Clinton said his experiences there "would make me more cautious about having any Americans in a peacekeeping role where there was any ambiguity at all about what the range of decisions were which could be made by a command other than an American command with direct accountability to the United States here."