G7 Summit: Clinton the debutant takes a bow on world stage: For the first time leading industrial nations are ready to admit that the world recovery is on shaky ground

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The Independent Online
WASHINGTON - Will it be the Clinton who worries his allies, inexperienced, undisciplined and indecisive? Or will Tokyo be a showcase for the other Clinton, only rarely seen during these first rocky months of his presidency: charming, with an intellectual breadth and grasp of contemporary issues unrivalled by any of his peers? writes Rupert Cornwell.

In terms of concrete achievement, the G7 summit promises to be as unremarkable as most of its predecessors. But the atmospherics are another matter. President Clinton did venture out of the US once, for his Vancouver summit with Boris Yeltsin. Most of those present in Toyko have already come to Washington to make a first acquaintance. But G7 will be the real international debut of this 46-year-old who, for all his missteps, embodies America's capacity for change. Apprehensive yet intrigued, the world is watching.

In fact, from a White House viewpoint, the summit now looks a more promising platform than it did even a month ago. Mr Clinton's domestic performance has improved. Not only is he belatedly starting to acquire the aura of the presidency; his ambitious deficit-reduction package is only one step away from the statute book; other parts of his legislative programme are, however erratically, moving ahead. His domestic approval rating is still low, but well above most of his fellow summiteers. And, if anything, it is climbing.

The modified agenda for G7 also suits Mr Clinton. No one has the stomach to reopen the Bosnia issue, where Mr Clinton's leadership this spring seemed most wanting. Instead, as Lloyd Bentsen, his Treasury Secretary, declared this week, the surprise of the summit is that for once it is all about economics.

The President's hand is strong. True, little progress is expected on the trade deadlock with Japan, but the demise of the Miyazawa government is a timely excuse. On financial assistance for Russia, whose crisis Mr Clinton claims dwarfs Somalia, even Bosnia, he has made the running. The White House has been busy portraying the dollars 2bn (pounds 1.3bn) package, including dollars 1.5bn of IMF money, which is likely to be approved in Tokyo, as a personal success.

His decision to extend the nuclear testing moratorium by at least 12 months gives him a moral platform from which to point the world in the direction of a nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Even the crisis in Haiti, which has caused so much embarrassment, looks close to solution.

In economics too, he holds the high ground. The President will warn that America's slow recovery is not enough to haul the rest of the world out of recession. He will press Germany to make further interest rate cuts, seek more domestic stimulus from Japan and insist that Europe make concessions to permit a new Gatt deal.

Washington has made identical demands at several previous summits. But these have been politely rebuffed with reminders about the untackled US budget deficit. For the first time Mr Clinton will claim he is actually doing something to lower it, to the tune of dollars 500bn over the next five years.

Yesterday President Clinton called for a special G7 meeting at Camp David to discuss remedies for unemployment in industrialised countries. 'I have asked my top economics and labour advisers to invite their counterparts from the leading industrialised nations to a meeting in the coming months,' the President said during a stopover in San Francisco on his way to Tokyo.

(Photograph omitted)