Clinton wins praise for role in talks

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The Independent Online
THERE WAS relief, and some scepticism, from US politicians and commentators over the weekend for the Wye River Memorandum, the interim agreement on land and security reached after marathon nine-day talks between US, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators at the end of last week.

But as the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, embarked on their next, and perhaps most difficult task - "selling" the accord to their domestic constituencies - the third leader involved, President Clinton, was basking in the sort of compliments he has rarely heard in recent months.

Any criticism was attached firmly to the modesty or fragility of the agreement, not to Mr Clinton.

Without actually spelling out the parallels he had in mind (although they clearly referred to the President's legalistic approach to his testimony in the Monica Lewinsky case) The Washington Post correspondent, said that Mr Clinton's "ambiguity" has proved "a strength" during the summit. "As on so many prior occasions, Clinton" - he said - "relied on a personal style of charm, persistence and language that could be artfully imprecise, but managed in the end to bring antagonistic sides together".

Careful not to appear over-pleased with himself, Mr Clinton was low- key in assessing his contribution. At the carefully scripted White House signing ceremony, he went out of his way to share the credit with the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who has been criticised as ineffective in the past and more recently caught flak, as a woman, for not condemning Mr Clinton's conduct with Monica Lewinsky. He shared the limelight also with vice-president, Al Gore, whom Mr Clinton is increasingly bringing to prominence as his designated successor, and - in a verbal tribute - with his wife.

Mr Clinton then took an almost religious approach, talking of the long drawn-out negotiations - in a meeting shortly afterwards with black church leaders - as a kind of penance for past misdeeds. With his image as international statesman enhanced - tributes flowed in yesterday from foreign leaders - and with those who had challenged his domestic credibility post-Monica put to flight, Mr Clinton set off to resume his fund-raising for the Democratic Party before next week's elections. He seemed more relaxed, spontaneous and confident than for many months.

In the past week he has scored points over the Republicans for reaching an agreement on next year's budget and ended 18 months of Israeli-Palestinian deadlock (if only temporarily). On Thursday, he will be in Florida for the return of the retiring (Democratic) Senator and national hero, John Glenn, to space.

But will all this make American voters forget, or forgive, the President's dalliance with Monica Lewinsky? That is what the pollsters still cannot gauge, and what the candidates - from both parties - would dearly like to know.

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