Major and Clinton seal new rapport with Sarajevo plan: Prime Minister and President put their past differences aside and reaffirm 'breadth and depth' of special relationship

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Indy Politics
PRESIDENT Bill Clinton and John Major yesterday sought to put their past differences behind them, reaffirm the 'breadth and depths' of their relationship and agreed a joint approach to foreign policy issues ranging from Bosnia to South Africa and Hong Kong.

The President's enthusiastic backing for the Downing Street declaration on Northern Ireland and agreement to a joint United States/United Kingdom reconstruction mission to Sarajevo set a symbolic seal on a rapport proclaimed by both sides after several hours and a lavish demonstration of hospitality by Mr Clinton.

The President told a snowy farewell news conference on the White House lawn: 'I think it is a great mistake to overstate the occasional disagreement and underrate the incredible depth and breadth of our shared interests and shared values.

'It is still a profoundly important relationship, I think to both countries, and I believe to the future of the world.'

Although there was at least as much show as substance to the trip, British officials were insisting yesterday that it had provided fresh evidence for Mr Major's claim of a 'partnership of shared interests and shared instincts'.

Even on some of the issues where there still appear to be sharp differences between the governments, they argue, there is more in common than shows on the surface.

The first example is Northern Ireland: Mr Clinton seriously upset the British government by admitting Gerry Adams, the president of Sinn Fein, in February. Mr Clinton did not take an opportunity yesterday to promise not to do it again.

But senior British officials who had close contact with their opposite numbers in Washington during the trip are confident that he thinks he was misled into believing the visit would have positive results.

While they admit there is still a risk that President Clinton could allow Mr Adams to attend the St Patrick's Day parade in San Francisco on 17 March, they did not raise the issue during the talks. But they are optimistic that the Sinn Fein leader will not be allowed in again without the IRA renouncing violence.

The second - and very different - issue on which British officials detect a closer rapport than is evident is Russia. Mr Major believes that President Boris Yeltsin should have the strong personal support of the West, and this should be reinforced by special defence links between Nato and Russia and by the admission of Moscow into 'political membership' of G7. But he did not press the issue publicly.

The strong opposition to the appointment of Strobe Talbott, the new deputy Secretary of State, whom Mr Major met on Monday and who is a leading pro-Yeltsin figure in Washington, reflects growing unease among some legislators over how safe a bet Mr Yeltsin is.

As other examples of close mutual interest, the British party cite the President's strong backing for the Hong Kong democratisation policy embarked on by Chris Patten, the governor; the joint effort to nudge the Inkatha party towards taking part in imminent South African elections; and close accord over free trade, evidenced by Mr Clinton and Mr Major's joint initiative in trying to bring forward the implementation of the Gatt agreement to 1 January 1995.

This was one theme in a speech delivered by Mr Major yesterday to the British-American Chamber of Commerce, in which he dismissed popular views of each other's country by Britons and Americans. Emphasising the massive importance of mutual inward investment between the US and UK, he insisted that Britain was no longer 'a world of Miss Marple or Middlemarch. A hidebound, unchanging, class-ridden society'.

(Photograph omitted)