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Clinton Speaks with World Leaders at Hussein Funeral

By Sam Fulwood III
Los Angeles Times
AMMAN,Jordan

President Clinton used the remarkable gathering of Middle East and world leaders at King Hussein's funeral Monday for some political arm-twisting during a series of informal and chance meetings with regional leaders and other foreign dignitaries.

National security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger said Clinton had a series of chats with world leaders as they paid final respects to the Jordanian leader, who died Sunday of cancer.

"The president really, I think, met with almost everyone," Berger told reporters. "The discussion was usually brief, but usually it was to make some point, often Jordan-related."

The funeral procession created long delays, giving Clinton ample chance to circulate among the mourning world leaders as if it were a giant, somber cocktail party.

When Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin saw Clinton at the funeral, he shouted out: "Beel Clinton," wrapping his old buddy in a bear-hug greeting, Berger said. "They talked," he said. "And it was mostly just personal chatter."

Clinton also found time to discuss elections coming up this month in Nigeria with that West African country's officials.

He spoke with French President Jacques Chirac and British Prime Minister Tony Blair about the talks they are sponsoring in France to find a solution to the conflict between Serbs and ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

At every opportunity, Berger said Clinton used the personal chats, which lasted five to seven minutes each, to press for support for Jordan's troubled economy, and for his Middle East peace policies.

Clinton didn't find time to speak with the large Iranian delegation that attended the funeral, Berger said.

"Hussein really did bring people together," Clinton told U.S. Embassy employees after attending the daylong funeral ceremonies.

Then, as if to underscore the point, Clinton said the Israeli delegation to the funeral included the major candidate for prime minister in May elections. "I could hardly believe my eyes," he said. "They were all walking together. I don't know if they talk at home, but they were all talking here."

Clinton made sure they talked to him, sidling up to each of them for brief conversations.

Clinton buttonholed Syrian President Hafez Assad who made a surprise trip to Amman for the funeral, Berger said. Asked whether Assad agreed to work with Clinton, Berger said, "Assad sort of said yes."

Pressed further, Berger said Assad agreed to work for peace. "But I couldn't see in his heart."