Clinton draws up strategy for his return to the political fray

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The Independent US

Six months after he left the White House, Bill Clinton will today formally open an office in New York ­ signalling the relaunch of his post-presidential political career.

He has invited aides and his former cabinet members to a festival in Harlem to mark what many believe ­ and what Mr Clinton certainly intends ­ will be a return to a higher political profile. It also represents a renewed buoyancy about the 54-year-old, who friends feared had slumped into a depression.

The former president's departure from office in January was marred by a pardons scandal as well as a series of stories ­ several of which were later shown to be untrue ­ about the former First Lady, Hillary Clinton, and him helping themselves to items of furniture from the White House. Since then, while Mr Clinton has retained a high international profile ­ meeting Nelson Mandela, travelling to India, showing up at Wimbledon ­ domestically he has kept out of the spotlight.

While he will not directly attack George Bush, aides say Mr Clinton is now ready to speak out on domestic issues that concern him ­ most particularly Aids and racial reconciliation within the US. John Podesta, a former White House chief of staff, is among a group of senior figures who are helping Mr Clinton draw up a strategy for his return to the political world. "The issues that animated his presidency are still the ones he wants to work on and make a contribution to," Mr Podesta told The Washington Post.

Mr Clinton told the newspaper: "I've never had a period in my life when I didn't have a good time. What I miss most is my work ­ about having influence on things I cared about."

Using the Washington home he has set up with his wife, the former president last week met a group of new Democrat House Representatives to discuss the party's agenda. He will next month attend his first formal fundraiser for the party.

But perhaps a more worrying threat to the Bush administration is that Mr Clinton has had discussions with a number of Democrat figures who have been tipped as potential presidential candidates for 2004, including Joseph Lieberman, John Edwards and John Kerry.

The return to the political mainstream suggests Mr Clinton is coming to terms with the fact that he is no longer the world's most powerful man. Friends have said that after 22 years as either governor or president, the return to a more normal life has been slow: one story tells how Mr Clinton still keeps more than $1m (£700,000) in his current account, while another says he is often alone at home and sleeps next to his dog.

Since Mr Clinton left office, he has made about 40 speeches ­ earning him $125,000 a time in the US and $250,000 overseas. But he has reportedly told friends that he needs to secure his future financially. It is expected that in the next couple of weeks he will decide on a book deal for his memoirs ­ which could net $8m. He will then concentrate increasingly on domestic issues. Mr Podesta said: "When he was president, there'd be people who would run behind and follow up on a speech or initiative by directing money or expertise. Now he has to do that."