Clinton cuts trip to show respect

BESET BY crises abroad and at home, President Bill Clinton decided yesterday to cut short a "meet-the-people" and fund-raising trip across the United States, making it known that he was unhappy about being out of Washington for three days.

The trip, which began yesterday in Louisville, Kentucky, had been planned to take in loyal Democratic constituencies in Chicago, California and Milwaukee, but is now due to end today in San Francisco.

Mr Clinton will be flying back overnight, returning home in time for a series of foreign- policy meetings connected with the bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

The presidential trip cross-country, finalised only last week as Monica Lewinsky testified to the grand jury about her relationship with Mr Clinton, had a dual purpose.

First, it would be raising funds for Democratic candidates in the coming mid-term congressional and state elections, and, secondly, it would project images of the President without the usual backdrop of scandal-ridden Washington and the media probing he faces daily in the capital.

Yesterday, though, at the start of a trip where arrangements altered from hour to hour, Mr Clinton apparently decided that a trip heavily weighted in favour of $1,000-a-plate meals could appear callous in the wake of the bombings in Africa. The trip was cut almost in half.

The planned evening in Los Angeles was called off. In Milwaukee, Mrs Clinton is to substitute for her husband - a deft political decision which quashes speculation about Mrs Clinton's conspicuous lack of public engagements in the two weeks before her husband's Grand Jury testimony.

For behind the curtailment of this week's presidential tour, there is another factor never spoken, but always in the background. Mr Clinton now has less than a week to prepare for his testimony before the Grand Jury next Monday. That is when he has promised to tell, "truthfully and completely" of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Three full days out of Washington even with the presumed public relations benefits and constant contact with the White House, may have been thought excessive.

As it was, yesterday's public meeting in Louisville, which was scheduled to concentrate on Mr Clinton's plans for health insurance safeguards and threaten a presidential veto of Republican legislation that fell short, was dissipated by touching on several different topics.

He opened with a tribute and a minute of silence in honour of the 12 Americans who died in Nairobi. Renewing his pledge to do "whatever we can to bring the murderers to justice", he also warned: "We must be strong in dealing with this. We must not be deterred by the threat of other action. There is no way out if we start running from this kind of conduct."

Before he spoke, Mr Clinton himself seemed weary, or perhaps preoccupied, his eyes reduced to slits by the bags beneath. Whether this was from the pressure of the Lewinsky investigation or the burden of Presidential office at a time of national loss was impossible to tell.