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News Briefs, part 2

Major Seeking to Shore Up Relations With U.S.

The Washington Post

LONDON

Last fall, when British economic policy was changing almost hourly and the government was forced into a series of humiliating reversals, it looked as if Prime Minister John Major was merely struggling through a patch of political misfortune. Surely, aides predicted, calmer days lay just ahead.

But now, as Major prepares for his first meeting with President Clinton on Wednesday, his government continues to lurch from crisis to crisis, and critics say the British leader seems to have an uncanny instinct for making a beeline toward the brink of political disaster.

After an abrupt shift by Major's government last week on a proposed amendment to a controversial treaty on European union, even the Daily Telegraph, normally a steadfast supporter of Major's Conservative Party, conceded there may be substance to "the impression that this is a government not fully in command of its policies." Spokesmen for the opposition Labor Party accused the government of "confusion and disarray" and of resorting to "scurrilous" tactics to avoid a parliamentary defeat.

Major may have survived the latest row over European union, but he is still backpedaling on a wide array of domestic initiatives, from closures of state-run coal mines to rail-system privatization to hospital reorganization. With just a 21-vote majority in the 650-member House of Commons, he is hostage to any significant group of Conservative rebels who unite around an issue.

In his visit to Washington, Major will try to resuscitate the wheezing "special relationship" between Britain and the United States amid what a senior U.S. diplomat here has called "palpable apprehension" about the future of those historic ties. The British political, economic and journalistic establishment does not know Clinton -- he and Major have never met -- and officials here worry that the U.S. president may not have Britain's interests uppermost in mind as he struggles to formulate foreign policy in a changing world.

Major also faces a potential hurdle in his talks with Clinton because of the Conservative Party's open support for president George Bush in last year's U.S. election. The party leadership sent two political strategists to tutor the Bush campaign in methods the Conservatives used to defeat Labor in national elections here last spring.

Christopher Makes Unscheduled Stop in Beirut

The Washington Post

JERUSALEM

Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher made an unscheduled trip to Beirut before coming here Monday, to assure Lebanon's President Elias Hrawi that the United States supports the independence and territorial integrity of his country, which has been beset by civil war and Syrian intervention.

The secretly arranged visit at the midpoint of Christopher's Middle East tour -- the first by a U.S. secretary of state in 10 years -- came after a brief stop in Kuwait. His U.S. Air Force jetliner flew to Larnaca, Cyprus, and Christopher -- accompanied by a small group of aides, a press pool and a heavily armed contingent of security guards -- made the 109-mile trip to Beirut in a convoy of three helicopters.

Monday nigh Christopher arrived in Jerusalem for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who intends to outline a "Syria-first" approach to the Middle East peace talks, putting more emphasis on negotiating a settlement with Damascus than with the Palestinians, Israeli officials said.

U.S. officials said that in addition to signaling U.S. support for Lebanese stability, Christopher wanted to make the trip because Lebanon is among the participants in the stalled Middle East peace process, which he hopes to get moving again.

The talks were thrown off course by Israel's expulsion Dec. 17 of more than 400 Palestinians, accused by the Israelis of complicity in terrorist activities, to a barren no man's land in southern Lebanon, between Lebanese army lines and a portion of Lebanon held by Israel as a self-declared "security zone.'' Hrawi refused to accept the deportees, arguing that he would not permit his country to become a dumping ground for people Israel wants to get rid of.

U.S. Expects Smooth Transition To U.N. Takeover in Somalia

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

Despite the public bickering between the United States and the United Nations over Somalia policy in recent weeks, the two sides have evidently reached agreement on a blueprint for the U.N. takeover of military operations from American forces in the ravaged, chaotic east African country.

Details will be set down in a report that Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali is expected to deliver to the Security Council in a week. He has consulted with American officials extensively while preparing the report. As a result, they do not expect to be surprised or troubled in any way by his conclusions.

The plan, American and U.N. sources said, does not envision a ceremonial moment when Lt. Gen. Robert Johnston, the American commander, hands over the reins to Turkish Gen. Cevik Bir, the new U.N. commander who flew into Mogadishu for the first time Monday.

Instead, planners hope for a smooth, seamless, gradual takeover. At present, there are 32,500 troops in Somalia -- 18,000 Americans and 14,500 from 22 other countries -- all under Johnston's command.

Under the plan, each American unit, as it departs a site, will be replaced by a unit from another country that has agreed to serve under Bir's U.N. command. Although American officials hope to complete the process by the end of April or early May, military experts accustomed to the normal slow pace of U.N. operations predict that the change-over could last until June.

At full strength, the United Nations expects to have 25,000 troops under Bir, including 3,000 to 5,000 Americans assigned to logistics and support. Although not combat troops, they will represent the largest number of American troops ever serving under a foreign commander in a U.N. operation.