Back to work for Clinton

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BILL CLINTON sought to put a traumatic year behind him yesterday, relaunching himself with vigour into international and domestic politics.

The President leapt straight from his acquittal in the Senate to Kosovo yesterday, promising that US troops would be sent as part of any peacekeeping force.

"The Second World War taught us that America could never be secure if Europe's future was in doubt," he said.

The bulk of the force would be European, but the US would provide about 15 per cent of the troops, he said in his weekly radio address.

"Our share would amount to a little less than 4,000 personnel," he said. The initial component is likely to be a force of US Marines already in the Mediterranean.

"There are serious obstacles to overcome at the current talks," Mr Clinton said of the negotiations between Serbian and ethnic Albanian delegates at Rambouillet in France.

"It's also clear that if there is a real peace, American participation in the force can provide such confidence, particularly for Kosovo's Albanians."

Nato allies had been pressing America to decide by the middle of next week whether US troops would be sent to Kosovo as part of a peacekeeping force. One question the White House is dealing with is whether the US contingent would be under foreign command, a sensitive subject in Washington.

Mr Clinton will jump back into international affairs with his first post-acquittal foreign trip. The President and his wife, Hillary, arrive in Mexico today. Ironically they are going to Merida in the Yucatan peninsula, a popular honeymoon destination for American couples.

Mrs Clinton, however, also has other things on her mind. She is now seriously considering running for the Senate in 2000, targeting the New York seat left vacant by the veteran Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who is retiring. It is possible that in the next few weeks, her intentions will become clear.

President Clinton will hit the campaign trail later this month, even though the US elections are nearly two years away. He will go to San Francisco on a fund-raising visit which is likely to be viewed as a victory lap, even though the White House has promised to be good and not to gloat about its success last week. San Francisco is a bastion of Democratic support, and the President is likely to receive a warm welcome.

The Republican party also sought to put the trial behind it. "We must move forward on the people's business," said Trent Lott, the chief Senate Republican, in his radio address. "We must do our job."

Congressional Republicans, who have been routed at every stage by the President, will start to pick up the pieces over the next two weeks.

They have promised two months of activity to steer politics back from impeachment towards normality, and new House Speaker Dennis Hastert will meet with the President to try to restore some bipartisan effort.

But there are still displays of deep bitterness from the Republicans. "At various points in the past few days I have referred to this sordid saga that we have been through as being only one chapter in our national nightmare. I fear that this sordid saga is not over," Mr Lott said on Friday night to the New York Times.

Asked if he believed that the President would repeat his behaviour, Mr Lott said: "It's not a prediction. It's a fear." Quoting William Faulkner, he said of the President: "I will witness your advent and judge your sincerity."