US makes overtures to long-time enemies

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The Independent US

President Bill Clinton has been using the historic United Nations summit in New York to extend a hand of warmth to some of America's long-held foes on the global stage. Some of his gestures have been carefully planned. Some have not.

President Bill Clinton has been using the historic United Nations summit in New York to extend a hand of warmth to some of America's long-held foes on the global stage. Some of his gestures have been carefully planned. Some have not.

One that fell most definitely into the latter category was an encounter on Wednesday between Mr Clinton and the President of Cuba, Fidel Castro. It happened at the end of an official luncheon and was the main item of gossip at UN headquarters yesterday. The protocol people had been doing all possible to prevent such an event.

Far more deliberate, however, has been the show of support by the US to the President of Iran, Mohammad Khatami. America still does not have full relations with Iran but it is conscious that the moderate Mr Khatami is increasingly threatened by more radical voices.

On Wednesday, a last-minute shuffling of the order of speakers coming to the main podium, blessed by the Americans, allowed President Khatami to take a slot within a few minutes of Mr Clinton ending his address. The latter, who normally leaves the UN hall after making an address, visibly lingered to listen to Mr Khatami.

The US is not being indiscriminate in its favours, however. Missing from the guest list at a reception hosted last night by President Clinton at the Metropolitan Museum of Art were the representatives of those countries still considered beyond any kind of rapprochement. They included Libya and Iraq, although Colonel Muammar Gaddafi expressed optimism in a television interview that his country's strained relations with the United States could be eased and normal ties restored. "I believe there is nothing which prevents the resuming or normalising of relations," he told CNN.

President Castro reportedly made a beeline for Mr Clinton after the Wednesday lunch. Witnesses said a warm handshake was exchanged, but the White House was more coy. "They exchanged a few words. It was nothing substantive."

Mr Castro has been making the most of the occasion. In a rare achievement, the Cuban leader reduced the world's leaders to laughter when he climbed to the podium and placed a white handkerchief over the lights that warn speakers when their five-minute limit is approaching. He then theatrically removed the hanky within the alloted time.

* Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, rejected compromise proposals on Jerusalem put forward by the US on Wednesday in what may be Mr Clinton's last attempt to secure a Middle East peace deal.

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