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Ambitious Clinton sets out agenda

PRESIDENT BILL Clinton may be regarded as a lame duck by his adversaries, but he came out fighting yesterday in his first regular White House press conference in three months. In a bravura performance, he set out an ambitious if sketchy list of domestic initiatives covering everything from health to gun control, and challenged Congress to work with him.

"There will be plenty of time for politics in the year-and-a- half ahead, but this summer must be a season of progress," he said. The President pinpointed gun control, raising the minimum wage, and reforming America's struggling health care system as key issues. He has also said that he will tour pockets of poverty across America.

He touched on foreign policy, saying that Serbians would have to renounce President Slobodan Milosevic before their country receives any aid. "They are going to have to come to grips with what Milosevic ordered in Kosovo ... If they think it's OK, they can make that decision, but I wouldn't give them one red cent for reconstruction," he said.

But the main burden of his remarks was on domestic policy, as he shifted his attention away from foreign policy after the war in the Balkans. Despite his call for better relations between the White House and Congress, he sniped at Republicans whom he blames for blocking progress on key issues.

"Washington is pretty far away from most Americans' lives, most of the time," he told students yesterday morning. "It is tempting for people in public life to fall into easy rhetoric and positioning themselves against their opponents."

The Republicans have their own priorities, based on traditional subjects such as tax cuts and more defence spending. "We have the best agenda for the American people," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

And it will be hard to avoid politics in the White House. Al Gore, the Vice-President, has already declared his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for next year's presidential election. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the First Lady, is expected to declare her candidacy for the New York Senate seat on 7 July at the country home of the sitting Senator, the august Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Senator Moynihan and Mrs Clinton have not hitherto been very close.