- The Washington Times - Friday, April 6, 2001

The top House Democrat yesterday criticized the Bush administration in the midst of its first international crisis for retreating from global hot spots, but Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said lawmakers should support the president.
"I have concerns about our overall trend here in our foreign policy in the first days of this administration," House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, said at a press conference on Capitol Hill. "This set of policies, I think, is sending the wrong message to the whole world."
"I think the policy of the Clinton administration, and the Bush senior administration, was the right policy, and it was to be very engaged in the rest of the world," he said. "It's in our self-interest for America to do that and to try to bring these conflicts and matters to a successful conclusion."
But Mrs. Clinton, New York Democrat and former first lady, defended President Bush's right to change position on policies involving North Korea, Macedonia and other countries as circumstances dictate.
She said any president must have the flexibility to address rapidly developing and constantly changing situations around the world in the best interests of the United States.
"All Americans should speak with a united voice on behalf of our president," Mrs. Clinton told the nation's leading newspaper editors gathered in Washington.
During the presidential campaign last year, Mr. Bush criticized the Clinton administration's foreign policy as a "bobbing cork" that reacted to incidents without a guiding strategy. But he studiously avoided criticism of Mr. Clinton during international troubles and applauded Mr. Clinton's efforts to bring about a Middle East peace.
A spokeswoman for House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said it is wrong for Mr. Gephardt to criticize the commander in chief during the international crisis with Beijing over the collision between an American surveillance plane and a Chinese jet fighter over the South China Sea.
"American leaders need to stand behind their president with a unanimous voice when our military men and women are in communist hands," said Emily Miller, Mr. DeLay's communications director.
Mr. Gephardt, who is the subject of increasing speculation about a possible White House bid in 2004, specifically avoided criticizing the administration over its handling of China's detainment of a U.S. military flight crew.
"I don't think an apology is required or necessary or really right in this situation," Mr. Gephardt said. "I think what we have said is the right thing to say."
But the Missouri Democrat went out of his way to criticize the Bush foreign-policy team for "disengaging" in the Middle East, the Balkans, and North and South Korea.
"I think it sends the wrong message in the Middle East," Mr. Gephardt said. "We can't just walk away from it because we didn't succeed. How can we get the violence to be stopped if we're not willing to meet with, as we have been, the security forces on both sides, try to bring them together and get a joint security operation going again?"
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the Bush administration is playing an active role in seeking peace in the Middle East.
"The United States is playing a role as being a facilitator, and the United States will continue to do that," Mr. Fleischer said.
As the China crisis continued to smolder on Capitol Hill, Senate Assistant Majority Leader Don Nickles, Oklahoma Republican, canceled a scheduled trip to China today with Oklahoma business and government leaders.
"I cannot in good conscience lead a trade delegation to China while your government continues to hold an American EP-3 crew against its will," Mr. Nickles wrote yesterday to China's ambassador to the United States.
Other lawmakers may back out of a separate China trip scheduled to start tomorrow. Nine senators and 13 House members are to go on the eight-day tour.
However, Sen. Lincoln Chafee, Rhode Island Republican and a Foreign Relations Committee member, said he may go on that trip even if the plane's crew members were still being held. "I think to myself, 'Knowledge is power,' " he said.
The centrist senator also said that those slated to take the trip plan a conference call tonight on whether to go. But Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, said last night he had already decided to withdraw.
In addition, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was planning to spend much of the congressional recess in China, but Sen. Richard C. Shelby yesterday said he had canceled the trip.
"As long as they have 24 of our service people that are being held hostage … I would not feel comfortable going to China," said the Alabama Republican, who is chairman of the panel.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a non-binding resolution yesterday expressing its regret at the damage and loss of life of a Chinese pilot in the midair collision between the Chinese fighter jet and a U.S. reconnaissance plane.
The resolution also called on the People's Republic of China to immediately release the 24 crew members and return the EP-3E aircraft and equipment.
"The Senate fully supports the continuing efforts of the president to ensure the safe return of the crew and aircraft," said the resolution, authored by Sen. Craig Thomas, Wyoming Republican.
Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, said the administration has been "doing a fine job in a difficult situation."
"Their expression of regret was the appropriate thing to do. I hope it sends the right signal to the Chinese government," Mr. Dorgan said. "They want to move carefully but keep the pressure on the Chinese government."
Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, praised the administration for handling the situation in a precise manner.
"I've studied this case and seen all the information, open and classified. There's absolutely no basis on which our president should make an apology," Mr. Warner said.
A Gephardt aide said the Democratic leader supports the administration on China but has grown increasingly concerned about the direction of U.S. foreign policy after meeting in recent weeks with the leaders of Germany, Jordan and Egypt.
"We're getting this warning from world leaders, and it's something that needs to be addressed," the aide said.
Mr. Gephardt said South Korean President Kim Dae-jung has "brought a very courageous policy of sunshine and openness, trying to bring North Korea into the world community."
"If we back out on this policy that he's courageously putting forward, it puts him into a difficult position in his own country," Mr. Gephardt said.
George Archibald contributed to this report.

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