- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2000

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei President Clinton, here to push a broad new economic program for Asia, found himself instead dealing with the question mark over who will succeed him in Washington.
"We're anxiously, but with respect for the feelings of the American people, waiting for the outcome of the U.S. presidential election," Russian President Vladimir Putin said just before the beginning of a working lunch with Mr. Clinton yesterday.
Saying there was plenty of time to decide the race for the White House, Mr. Clinton counseled Mr. Putin there was nothing to worry about.
The two met in this tiny, oil-rich sultanate on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, a gathering of 21 Pacific Rim leaders that typically focuses on such issues as free trade and economic cooperation.
In his meeting with Mr. Putin and in a keynote address to a group of regional business leaders, Mr. Clinton tried to push the theme that the cliffhanger American election between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush should not be a cause for international concern.
"I think other leaders should have the same reaction the American people have about it," Mr. Clinton said before the Putin meeting.
"I think they are pretty relaxed about it right now," Mr. Clinton said.
White House spokesman Jake Siewert said the uncertainty expressed by APEC leaders here had come up only at the margins, and mostly in a good-humored way.
"It doesn't seem that there's any real anxiety among the leaders here about this problem," he said.
But Mr. Clinton took pains to tell the gathering of business executives that, no matter who prevails, the U.S. role in promoting open markets and free trade will continue.
One of the things on which Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush agreed in their election campaigns is that the United States should continue its strong leadership for a more integrated global economy and for expanded trade, he said.
Mr. Clinton leaves Brunei today for Vietnam, a journey that has largely overshadowed the APEC trip. In addition to the Putin meeting, Mr. Clinton met privately with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung yesterday and meets with the leaders of China and Japan today. In addition, Mr. Clinton will be attending the formal APEC sessions and endorsing the final summit statement before flying off to Hanoi.
In Mr. Clinton's talks with Mr. Kim, the South Korean leader said he "clearly sees value" in a Clinton visit to North Korea, but that the United States must decide if such a trip was in its national interest. Wendy Sherman, a top State Department official, said Mr. Clinton would decide soon whether to make the historic trip. Earlier, there had been talk that Mr. Clinton would visit Pyongyang at the end of his Asia trip, but the White House scrapped the idea.
The White House has tried relentlessly to keep the focus of the Vietnam trip on future ties, not on the legacy of the Vietnam War or Mr. Clinton's own past in the anti-war movement.
U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Douglas Peterson gave reporters here an upbeat view of Vietnam's progress in recent years on economic liberalization and individual rights. He said he had not detected much postwar bitterness in Vietnam toward the United States and that Mr. Clinton's stand on the war would be a non-issue.
"It probably is well known, but it's never been mentioned to me and I doubt if there will be any reference to it at all during his visit, at least certainly by the Vietnamese," the ambassador said.
Mr. Clinton addressed the group of regional business executives from the marble-and-teak halls of the Empire Hotel and Country Club, a month-old luxury complex on the shores of the South China Sea.
He joked that while he was certain this would be his last APEC summit as president, "I just don't know who will be here next year."
But he also acknowledged that, of the two candidates, Mr. Gore had taken a much stronger stand in favor of including labor and environmental issues in future trade accords, something viewed with deep suspicion by many of the less-developed APEC countries here.
Low-income APEC members such as Malaysia fear that introducing labor and environmental standards into traditional trade deals amounts to a disguised form of protection that discriminates against their lower-wage industries. It would be unwise and self-defeating to link trade in any way with protectionist measures based on environmental or labor concerns, said Jaime Caceres Sayan, chairman of the Peruvian company AFP Integra.
APEC trade ministers earlier this week hammered out a compromise calling for a new round of global trade talks, but only after first agreeing to give themselves until 2001 to decide what the agenda for the new round should be.
In his remarks to the business leaders, Mr. Clinton tried to address fears that APEC had lost its momentum in the wake of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis and that the United States was losing interest in the organization.
"There is no longer any doubt that our link to this region is permanent, not passing," Mr. Clinton said.
"I believe these annual leaders' summits and the business meetings associated with them have made a difference," he said. "I hope they continue indefinitely."
Mr. Putin and Mr. Clinton met for just over an hour yesterday, their fourth bilateral meeting of the year. The discussion ranged from Russian military sales to Iran and the recent rapprochement with North Korea to the case of Edmund Pope, an ailing U.S. businessman facing espionage charges in a Moscow courtroom.
Despite Mr. Putin's pre-meeting remarks, a senior administration official said yesterday that the two leaders did not discuss the Florida recount and the U.S. election behind closed doors.
Mr. Clinton attended a gala dinner hosted by Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, and even found time to play nine holes of after-midnight golf with Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong at a lighted championship golf course in this capital city.

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