Time short for Clinton on world stage ...

Now in Norway, he is striving to rekindle a stalled Mideast peaceprocess.

Under heavy criticism and facing a hostile Congress, President Clinton is struggling to salvage a foreign-policy legacy before the clock runs out on his time in office.

His administration has lately experienced a string of setbacks on overseas affairs, the most notable being the defeat of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

But wrangles over foreign aid and other items may miss a larger point: On a few agenda items that administration officials have pushed for years, success remains within their grasp.

Key issues - such as the Middle East, trade with China, debt to the United Nations, and Northern Ireland - are still open with 14 months left in the president's second term. The outcome will largely determine how Mr. Clinton, leader of the only superpower, will be remembered as an ambassador to the world.

"Paradoxically, what Clinton sought to achieve in foreign policy, he's not that far away from," says Fred Holborn, a professor at Johns Hopkins University.

But the president, who is currently in Oslo, Norway, for talks on Mideast peace, still has his work cut out. He already vetoed two foreign-spending bills because Congress omitted funding for coveted projects - including $1.6 billion for the Wye River peace initiative for the Middle East, one of the administration's big accomplishments. Also, Washington and the world are focusing on US elections, casting doubt over Clinton's ability to deliver on long-term projects.

Then, too, Clinton has not helped himself. "The institutional weakness that is normal for a president is compounded by the fact that he is not particularly strong on foreign-policy issues," says Robert Suettinger of the Brookings Institution here.

But Clinton, who has outmaneuvered GOP opponents, is still in the game. Some countries, particularly Israel, may prefer inking a deal with him rather than facing his successor. And some legislators may be wary of leaving a "do-nothing" legacy.

In the Middle East, it's unlikely the White House will meet the ambitious goals it set in 1993 for a sweeping settlement. But the administration still hopes for an agreement between Israel and Syria - a result that would earn Clinton a glowing record on the Middle East.

Clinton is in Oslo for, among other things, a summit with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. Meanwhile, Syrian officials said last week they welcome Clinton taking an active role in the Mideast during his final year as president.

If he makes progress toward an elusive Syria-Israel pact, Clinton "could get credit for breaking the back of the Arab-Israeli conflict," says Thomas Smerling of the Israel Policy Forum.

In foreign trade, the US is struggling to bring China into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Clinton turned down an April offer from the Chinese to ease trade restrictions because he thought it wouldn't pass Congress. Then, talks with China were cut off when NATO bombed its embassy in Yugoslavia, apparently by mistake.

But negotiations have reopened with Beijing and, although it may be too late to get congressional approval for new trade laws, US officials are hopeful. "We might come to a WTO agreement with China before the WTO meetings [in Seattle next month], although we won't be able to get it through Congress until next year," said US Chamber of Commerce president Thomas Donohue.

The White House is also scrambling to pay off money the US owes the United Nations before it loses its General Assembly vote. More than ever, Congress is opposing international organizations, and some lawmakers may even delight in losing a voice in the world body.

US representative to the UN Richard Holbrooke, master of the last-minute deal, has been campaigning on the Hill for support. "I believe this is fixable in the dramatic endgame of the budget process," Mr. Holbrooke said.

Finally, former US Sen. George Mitchell is in Belfast to push implementation of last year's Good Friday accord for Northern Ireland. Mr. Mitchell is trying to mediate interpretations of the deal between the British Protestant majority and Sinn Fein, which represents the Irish Republican Army. The deal could have an enduring effect on Europe.

The biggest feathers in Clinton's international cap so far are the North American Free Trade Agreement and NATO's expansion into Eastern Europe. Success in the Mideast, China, the UN, or Ireland would fit nicely with his record of intervention in Kosovo, Bosnia, and Haiti, not to mention less-heralded issues like combating global terrorism and improving ties with Africa.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.