Clinton tackles grid-iron rather than policy

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AFTER a week-long holiday truce in which even old controversies from Arkansas have faded from the headlines, President Bill Clinton returns to his desk today pledging

a 1994 that builds on the recent string of legislative and policy successes that helped lift his approval rating in December to the highest levels since immediately after his inauguration.

In his first weekly radio address of 1994, Mr Clinton set out his broad domestic policy goals for the new year: health-care reform providing guaranteed universal medical coverage; passage of a strong crime bill by Congress; and moves to convert the current economic upswing into higher living and standards and more jobs.

But although he leaves Washington on Saturday for a hugely important trip to Brussels, Prague and Moscow, the first of three visits to Europe in 1994, Mr Clinton made no mention during his 10-minute talk of foreign policy - the area which has drawn the greatest criticism in his first year in office.

As they have for a decade now, the President and Mrs Clinton saw in the new year at the so-called Renaissance Weekend at Hilton Head, South Carolina, an informal get-together for some of the country's best and brightest, set up by Philip Lader, who last month became White House deputy chief of staff.

This time, however, for the President at least, the emphasis was more on sport than weighty, off-the- record deliberations of public policy. Uncharacteristically, he ducked early out of panel discussions (including one on Bosnia) for the golf course, and a beach football game on Friday during which he ended briefly beneath a 30-body pile-up - arguably an omen of another bruising political year ahead.

The prevailing view here is that 1994 will be scarcely less of a Clinton roller-coaster than its predecessor. The expectation is that health-care reform (though perhaps en shrining less than coverage for all) will be passed, as will the most sweeping anti-crime bill in decades.

But the clouds that spoilt the closing days of 1993 have not been dispelled. Little may be left to say about the allegations of marital infidelity by Mr Clinton, but media and congressional pressures are growing for a full investigation of the 'Whitewater affair' and the presidential family's dealings with the failed Madison Guaranty savings bank in Arkansas - if not by a Watergate-style special prosecutor, then at least by an independent counsel appointed by Janet Reno, the Attorney-General.

With mid-term elections just 10 months away, Whitewater is sure of remaining a political football for a while to come. For the Senate minority leader, Bob Dole, yesterday, the affair was 'very serious'.

However, George Stephanopoulos, Mr Clinton's close aide and policy adviser, accused the Republicans of playing party politics. The Clintons, Mr Stephanopoulos said, had lost a 'lot of money' on the property venture. He added that the current Justice Department investigation would demonstrate that no law had been broken.

Mr Stephanopoulos said yesterday that the government should help people who were unwilling subjects of Cold War-era radiation tests, but said that the administration had not decided on compensating radiation test victims, Reuter reports.

(Photograph omitted)

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