Clinton flies off into the unknown

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The Independent Online
THE MOSCOW and Irish trips promise to afford Bill Clinton a short respite from the continuing political fall-out over his admitted affair with Monica Lewinsky, although they make up one of the most risky and uncertain presidential journeys ever undertaken.

The confusion in Moscow, and Boris Yeltsin's physical and political weakness, some commentators believe, could even benefit Mr Clinton by comparison, allowing him to appear energetic and authoritative beside the Russian leader.

After Moscow, Mr Clinton will visit both parts of Ireland, where a lap of honour for a foreign policy triumph has turned into a serious challenge to try to cement the peace agreement that he helped broker.

Whatever his problems in Washington and whatever emerges in Moscow, Mr Clinton is assured of an almost universal welcome when he visits Ireland. No other US president has taken such a close and detailed interest in Irish matters - the peace process representing one of the few areas of unalloyed success in Mr Clinton's foreign policies.

The aim of bringing about a historic handshake between the Unionist leader, David Trimble, and Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams does not appear realistic, but Mr Clinton will be hoping for some movement on issues such as arms decommissioning and the formation of a new power-sharing executive to make the point that he still has influence abroad.

There was scepticism in Washington about how long any enhancement effect might last. As the Senate reconvened after its summer recess, opinion on Capitol Hill - where Republicans have a majority in both Houses - appeared to be hardening against him.

Introducing the agenda for the next month, the Senate majority leader, Trent Lott, digressed into an attack on Mr Clinton. Describing himself "as a husband, father and grandfather" Mr Lott said he was "offended by the President's behaviour and by the tragic example he has set to our young people". There was a real question, he said, whether Mr Clinton now enjoyed sufficient respect to lead.

n Monica Lewinsky has received multi-million dollar offers for her story, but has not yet decided even whether to tell, it emerged last night. Among the rumoured offers are $1m from the Mirror, a US supermarket tabloid; $2m from the Murdoch-owned publishing house, Harper Collins, and $6m from another, unnamed, book publisher.

Bill Clinton's Itinerary

Today Arrives Moscow (am)

Tomorrow Moscow: talks with Boris Yeltsin,

joint press conference

Thursday Leaves Moscow early am for

Belfast, Omagh - with Tony Blair,

Armagh (cathedral speech) and

Friday Dublin

Saturday Speaks at Gateway 2000 factory,

Limerick, golf at Ballybunion,

leaves for Washington pm