- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 5, 2000

President Clinton's trip late last month to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Switzerland was the most expensive and, critics charge, the least productive foreign trip ever taken by a U.S. chief executive.

The White House on Monday reported the Air Force has estimated that Mr. Clinton's travels to the Asian subcontinent will cost between $50 million and $75 million, although precise figures will not be available for months.

Much of that expense came from the use of an aerial armada that, according to news reports, included 26 huge C-5 and C-17 cargo planes and more than 50 other support aircraft needed to transport the president's security and political entourages.

The Secret Service took unprecedented security measures because of the tensions between Pakistan and India that the White House fears could erupt into nuclear war.

Mr. Clinton played a shell game with multiple jet aircraft when shuttling from Bombay to Islamabad. He first pretended to board a C-17, then slipped aboard one of two waiting Gulfstream executive jets parked behind the cavernous transport.

Air Force officials said they are under orders not to discuss costs of the operation.

"That's a White House directive. This seems to be a sticky wicket these days," said Kelly Green, spokesman for the 89th Airlift Wing, which includes Air Force One and other aircraft provided to the White House.

Presidential travel abroad is coordinated by the National Security Council. Officials at the General Accounting Office, a congressional agency that audits federal programs, and other watchdog groups report that specific figures on the cost of presidential travel are difficult to obtain, but also assure that a trip totaling at least $50 million would certainly set a new mark for presidential travel expenses.

Mr. Clinton went to India and Pakistan to urge compliance with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in hopes the feuding nations will curtail nuclear-weapons testing and, presumably, a buildup of weapons of mass destruction. He failed to obtain a new understanding on the issue from either nation.

The president also stopped at Geneva to meet with Syrian President Hafez Assad in an unsuccessful attempt to restart Mideast peace talks.

"I don't think there has been a time in recent history where a president has embarked on a foreign tour in the extensive way that he did and come up totally empty-handed," said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican.

"It again emphasizes the need for a steady hand at the tiller, a person who is interested really in foreign policy and doesn't view it as a photo op, which apparently this trip was primarily motivated to achieve," Mr. McCain said.

Mr. Clinton lashed back at such Republican criticism during a Democratic National Committee luncheon in New York last week.

"What they didn't point out is that I lost all the leverage I had when the Republican Senate defeated the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty," Mr. Clinton said. "One of [the Republicans'] great strengths is [that] they have no guilt and no shame. I mean, they'll say anything."

The White House has been equally defensive about the press coverage the trip received. Aides to the president complained when ABC News, in a story analyzing the cost of the trip, referred to Mr. Clinton's tour of Pakistan and India as "days of protected sightseeing."

"The White House takes issue with our characterization," anchor Peter Jennings said last week in a broadcast from Jerusalem. "The White House makes a good point. Mr. Clinton has spent the great bulk of his time trying to improve U.S.-India relations and reduce the danger in the region of nuclear war. And his efforts have been very well received."

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