Clinton's Terrorism Offensive Sparks Criticism
WASHINGTON — President Clinton is finding himself frustrated at home and abroad as he pursues new powers to fight terrorism.
Conservative Republicans concerned with excessive government intrusion have blocked congressional approval of stronger wiretapping authority. Mr. Clinton says federal law enforcement needs such capability to keep pace with accelerating advances in communications technologies.
The European allies, meanwhile, are threatening a trade war if the United States acts under new legislation to punish foreign firms that do $40 million or more in business with the oil industries of Iran and Libya. Clinton has accused both countries of supporting terrorism. The president signed the legislation yesterday.
Expanding federal wiretapping power and targeting the economies of alleged terrorism sponsors are key facets of an anti-terrorism offensive that Clinton launched after the June bombing of the US military complex in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 service personnel. The drive intensified after the suspected sabotage on June 17 of TWA Flight 800 over Long Island and the June 27 pipe-bombing at Centennial Park in Atlanta. Those events claimed a total of 232 lives.
With Americans feeling more vulnerable to domestic and international terrorism, the priority that Clinton is seen giving to fighting the threats carries significant implications for his campaign to win reelection.
In an apparent bid to convince voters of his determination to protect American citizens and interests, Clinton on Monday was to boost his "comprehensive strategy" on combating terrorism in a speech at George Washington University in Washington.
In his address, Clinton was expected to review recent terrorist attacks at home and abroad, outline the responses he has taken and ask the public to pressure Congress to reconsider the wiretapping proposal that it dumped last Friday when it approved new antiterrorism legislation.
Clinton also was to use the speech to unveil additional antiterrorism measures as part of a new legislative package the White House dubbed the "International Crime Control Act." White House officials say it would strengthen US border controls and broaden the government's powers to bring to justice those who commit crimes against US citizens abroad by eliminating the statute of limitations on such offenses.
The proposed legislation would also strengthen US efforts to fight international money-laundering. Officials say the billions of dollars in profits earned by the global drug trade and other international crime groups are a prime source of financing for terrorism and corruption of public officials.
"Our responsibility is to do everything we can to prevent terrorist attacks, to bring to justice those who commit them and ... to never let terrorism stop us from moving forward with our lives," said a White House preview of Clinton's speech.
Clinton's speech came amid escalating tensions between the US and Iran triggered by Defense Secretary William Perry's comments last week after returning from Saudi Arabia. Mr. Perry told National Public Radio that the US would retaliate against those involved in bombing the American military complex at Dhahran, and he called Iran the "leading candidate" in anti-US terrorist attacks. Tehran denied the charges.
The legislation Clinton signed before his speech would allow him to impose a range of sanctions, such as blocking US bank loans to foreign companies that invest in the petroleum industries of Iran and Libya. US firms are already banned from doing so. The administration says that only by squeezing those countries' economic assets can they be forced to abandon their alleged support of international terrorist groups.
France and other European countries dispute the US position. They argue that Tripoli and Tehran must be drawn into the international mainstream through normal dialogue and trade. Washington retorts that the Europeans are only interested in protecting corporate profits.
France on Monday reiterated a warning that the European Union would retaliate against the US if it acted under the new legislation. "We hope that reason will prevail and the American authorities will refrain from creating a particularly dangerous precedent for the safety and development of world trade by taking unilateral, extra-territorial actions," said a French Foreign Ministry spokesman.