Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Clinton to Stump in Middle East Instead of Peoria

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Clinton to Stump in Middle East Instead of Peoria

Article excerpt

PRESIDENT Clinton departs tomorrow on a trip that represents a calculated political risk at home but could give a significant boost to the unfolding peace process in the Middle East.

Some of Mr. Clinton's own political advisers have warned that his decision to embark on the most extensive presidential journey in the region in two decades will reduce his campaign time in support of Democratic candidates on the eve of high-stakes national elections. (Closer look at Hamas movement, Page 2).

It is a judgment shared by some Republicans.

"This is great news," says pollster Fred Steeper, whose Southfield, Mich., market-research firm is advising a number of Republican candidates. "He's dealing with foreign-policy matters rather than Republicans. That leaves the way open for the GOP to define the meaning of election."

But in the end, a different logic has prevailed among the president's closest aides. They calculate that Clinton will have more to gain than lose by canceling campaign appearances, striking a presidential pose on the world stage, and advertising the latest in a string of significant recent foreign-policy successes.

"All he can do in the campaign is get beat up. When he's in the Middle East, he gets great air time, and he looks presidential," a Washington-based political analyst says.

During a whirlwind four-day journey that begins tomorrow, Clinton will join 5,000 dignitaries to watch the signing of a peace treaty that will bring a 46-year state of war between Israel and Jordan to an end.

After addressing the parliaments of both countries, in Amman and Jerusalem, Clinton will pay a call on US troops in Kuwait and visit King Fahd in Saudi Arabia. Before returning home, he will stop in Cairo to meet with Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

In addition to focusing international attention on the peace signing, Clinton's presence will send yet another strong signal to Syrian President Hafez al-Assad that the Middle East peace process is moving ahead without him. Syria and Lebanon are the only front-line states that have not yet made peace with Israel.

Following a lengthy debate among his advisers, Clinton announced Friday that he would include a stopover in Damascus on his trip. The decision is likely to draw controversy since Syria remains on the US's list of states that sponsor terrorism.

But administration officials point out that Syria is the crucial missing link in the peace process and the key to stopping attacks by Iran-backed Hizbullah factions based in southern Lebanon.

US officials caution against expecting any breakthrough with Syria but are counting on President Assad to reaffirm his commitment to find a formula for peace, one that would be based on the full normalization of relations with Israel in return for Israel's withdrawal from the Golan Heights. …

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