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A rhetorical world tour with Clinton: Asia, Africa, even Guyana

December 17, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Iraq’s Saddam Hussein is ``maddeningly stupid″ and the Iraqi people’s own worst enemy. Russia’s Boris Yeltsin is over his ``little illness,″ President Clinton says, and war-ravaged Bosnia is moving toward a lasting peace.

In a marathon, tour-the-globe news conference Tuesday _ fittingly, from a State Department auditorium named for the late statesman Dean Acheson _ Clinton offered his view on topics as distant as Cyprus, Taiwan and even Guyana.

Clinton offered an upbeat appraisal of world affairs, even to the point of portraying the past 23 months of enforced peace in Bosnia as ``the beginning of a resurgence of democratic processes.″

The president said he intended to announce his plan for a future U.S. role in Bosnia before he goes there early next week to visit the American troops.

Clinton was less delicate in discussing Saddam, whose defiance of the United Nations and Washington has bedeviled Clinton since he began his first term.

Is the Iraqi leader simply crazy, Clinton was asked by a reporter.

``If he is, he’s clever crazy,″ Clinton replied. ``Then sometimes he does something that seems maddeningly stupid.″

Clinton expressed sympathy for ordinary Iraqis, especially children, who are suffering under U.N. economic sanctions imposed after the 1991 Gulf War to compel Saddam to allow the U.N. to destroy his weapons of mass destruction.

``I’m worried about those kids,″ Clinton said. ``I’m worried about the people who are hurt over there. But the biggest problem they’ve got is him.″

Clinton had soothing words for Yeltsin, the Russian president, who was hospitalized Dec. 10 with what doctors said was an acute viral respiratory infection.

``I’m glad to see that the president apparently is getting over his little illness,″ Clinton said, ``and I expect to see him back to work soon.″

Clinton may not be seeing Yeltsin in person anytime soon, however. He told reporters he would not meet with Yeltsin in Moscow until the Russian Duma ratifies the START II nuclear arms treaty, which it has steadfastly refused to do. Clinton has balked at negotiating further arms cuts until the Duma acts.

On another topic that has strained U.S. relations with Moscow, Clinton noted that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and her NATO counterparts signed documents at NATO headquarters on Monday that formalized the alliance’s intent to bring Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into the club.

Clinton called this ``a grand effort to defend our shared values and advance our common destiny.″ He said he would submit an amended North Atlantic Treaty, adding the three new members, to the Senate when it returns in January.

He announced that NATO would hold a summit meeting in Washington in the spring of 1999 at which Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic will be welcomed formally as members _ assuming the NATO parliaments have ratified it by then.

Clinton also addressed a foreign policy problem that is older than NATO itself: the persistent tensions between fellow NATO members Turkey and Greece. Clinton is meeting Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz at the White House on Friday.

Clinton called the Turk-Greek dispute over Cyprus ``ultimately irrational.″

``To allow the potential that Greece and Turkey both have ... to be broken on the rocks of their differences over Cyprus and other territorial differences in the Aegean is in my view a grave error,″ Clinton said.

Clinton also touched on China (it must pursue a peaceful resolution with Taiwan), Israel (he plans to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu early next year), Iran (he is ready for an ``honest discussion″ with its leaders) and India (he intends to visit both India and Pakistan next year).

Oh, and then there was Guyana.

Clinton was asked if he had any ``words of wisdom″ for 77-year-old Janet Jagan, the American-born widow of a former Guyanan president. She was favored to win Monday’s presidential election in the South American nation.

``I think anybody with enough energy to get elected president at that age probably knows what to do,″ said Clinton, who is 51. ``I’m very impressed.″

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