Clinton ponders the future with a round of floodlit golf

The Outgoing President
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The Independent US

President Clinton may be preparing to vacate the White House, but the 42nd leader of the United States says he is not about to drop out of the public eye when the new president - whoever he may be - is inaugurated in January.

President Clinton may be preparing to vacate the White House, but the 42nd leader of the United States says he is not about to drop out of the public eye when the new president - whoever he may be - is inaugurated in January.

William Jefferson Clinton mused aloud in public for the first time yesterday on what he might do with life after holding the world's most powerful office for eight years.

In Brunei on the first leg of his last Asian tour in office, he said he wanted to find a way to "continue to be active in the things that I care about". Provided, that is, he can keep out of the way of his successor. "The important thing for a former president, it seems to me, is to find a way to be a useful citizen of both my country and the world, and continue to pursue the things that I think are most important to making the world a better place," Mr Clinton said.

The comments came in an unscripted question and answer session on the fringes of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) forum, a 21-member free trade grouping Mr Clinton has supported throughout his two terms.

"The United States can only have one president at a time, and it is very important to me that I can continue to be active in the things that I care about - many of which I was talking about here today - in a way that is respectful of the fact that the country has a new president," he said. "I think I can find a way to do that."

The speech, delivered with classic Clintonesque ease to an audience of chief executives, dealt with the importance of promoting free trade, preserving security in the Asian region and managing the impact of the new economy. "The people need to bond with the new president, and the new president needs to establish his relationships and role in the world," he said.

Surrounded by the opulence of what Brunei terms the world's only six-star hotel, and freed from the tensions of the electoral paralysis in Washington, Mr Clinton made light of the courtroom dramas he had left behind.

"As you know, this has been rather an interesting week in the United States ... one of the things I have learnt is that we should all be very careful about making predictions about the future," he said. "But I know I can safely predict this will be my last Apec summit. I just don't know who will be here next year."

With an eye on framing his own legacy, he said Apec's work had made an important contribution to prosperity and stability in Pacific Rim states since he hosted its first leaders' summit at Blake Island near Seattle, in 1993.

Apec, a loosely structured grouping, has attracted a rising tide of criticism from business and non-governmental groups who say it can claim few meaningful achievements. Mr Clinton disagreed. "I believe that in these years, Apec has made a difference. I believe these annual leaders' summits and the business meetings associated with them have made a difference."

Mr Clinton said he had one or two more pressing and more mundane tasks to deal with, including finding a way to support Hillary Clinton in her new political role in New York. "I now have a United States senator to support," he said. "I understand that is an expensive proposition."

Relaxing in the easy adulation of some of Asia's great and good, the Comeback Kid lapped up the applause. But, as he said, he is not about to fade away. "I'll be around," he said.

To prove it, he played a round - of golf. After the formal dinner, he took Singapore's Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong, to the Royal Brunei Golf and Country Club for a rainy midnight game on the floodlit links.

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